Development News Politics Transportation

Reconstructed Fort Washington Way generating variety of societal advances

Each Wednesday in July, UrbanCincy is highlighting Fort Washington Way (FWW), the I-71/US-50 trench bisecting the Cincinnati riverfront from its downtown.  Part one of the series discussed what the area looked like prior to reconstruction a decade ago, and how that reconstruction made way for the development along Cincinnati’s central riverfront.  Last week’s article discussed some of the unseen assets included in the project that continue to benefit Cincinnatians in a variety of ways today.  This week’s piece will highlight even more of the unique features that the 1.25 mile-long highway boasts.

In addition to the combined sewer overflow fix along Cincinnati’s central riverfront through added containment capacity, engineers also increased the capacity for municipal water under Third Street.  This led to an opportunity for the City of Cincinnati to share its high-quality water supply with communities in Northern Kentucky through a new tunnel built underneath the Ohio River.  Those in Kentucky benefit by receiving clean water, and the City of Cincinnati benefits from an increased revenue stream.

On the southern side of the FWW trench is a wall that supports Second Street and conceals the Riverfront Transit Center, but it also serves as the primary flood protection for downtown Cincinnati.  Cincinnati choice to build its flood protection into its everyday infrastructure maximizes utility while also conserving urban space.  Since this wall was engineered to lift Second Street above the floodplain, it effectively extended the street grid south while also maintaining safety.

The benefits discussed so far were not accomplished in isolation.  In fact, the reconstruction project was helped paid for by entities in the state of Kentucky including the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) who saw better connections with Cincinnati as an economic gain.  The project fixed the entanglement of on- and off-ramps to the bridges over the Ohio River, and has led to a better transfer of people and goods across the state line.

The fact that the Cincinnati area calls so many large and lucrative companies home demonstrates that the city once had the ability to draw major economic players to the region.  The fact that they have stayed demonstrates that the area has done well to keep up with changing business, technological, and infrastructure demands.  One such example of keeping up with changing times can be found buried under Third Street, behind the northern wall of Fort Washington Way, where engineers included the capacity for a bundle of fiber optic cables, approximately three feet in diameter, spanning the length of the roadway.

This dark fiber has the capability to be activated and connected with a larger fiber optic network when needed, ensuring that downtown Cincinnati has the ability to stay at the cutting edge of technology.  Possible uses include connecting large-scale data centers to the Internet backbone, or providing high-speed fiber-to-the-home Internet access for Cincinnatians, such as Cincinnati Bell’s FiOptics or Google’s Fiber for Communities.

Next Wednesday’s article will conclude the series, and look to the future of the area.  What can be done with the space over the FWW trench in terms of the capping?  How will future development be impacted?  And, ultimately, will the reconstruction of Fort Washington Way reestablish the strong ties that once existed between Cincinnati and its riverfront?

Development News Politics Transportation

Hidden Assets of Fort Washington Way Saving Taxpayers Millions of Dollars

Each Wednesday in July, UrbanCincy is highlighting Fort Washington Way (FWW), the I-71/US-50 trench bisecting the Cincinnati riverfront from its downtown. Part-one of the series discussed what the area looked like prior to reconstruction a decade ago, and how that reconstruction made way for the development along Cincinnati’s central riverfront. This week’s piece will discuss some of the unseen assets included in the project that continue to benefit Cincinnatians in a variety of ways today, and will continue to do so well into the future.

Those who enjoy spending their summer evenings at Great American Ball Park to watch our first-place Reds, or our defending AFC North Champion Bengals, have probably seen the stairway entrances to the Riverfront Transit Center. Below Second Street, along the southern portion of FWW, lies an underground multi-modal transit facility. Demonstrating a tremendous amount of foresight, engineers constructed a transit center reportedly capable of moving 500 buses into and out of the heart of downtown in an hour.  This is in addition to Second Street which is designed to also accommodate light rail and streetcars at street level while the underground portion is capable of accommodating light rail, commuter rail, and buses.  And all of this was designed with future transit connections to Northern Kentucky via the Taylor Southgate Bridge, and Cincinnati’s eastern and western suburbs via Riverside Drive and Longworth Hall respectively.

As The Banks development continues its exciting march toward completion, its visitors along with those frequenting Great American Ball Park, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and Paul Brown Stadium will use the anticipatory infrastructure available at the transit facility that could eventually be home to trains serving downtown on a regional light rail network – an inclusion that will eventually save taxpayers millions of dollars once light rail begins to serve Cincinnati central riverfront.

But the Riverfront Transit Center is not the only instance of transportation foresight included with the FWW redesign ten years ago. The roadways that span FWW at Main and Walnut streets were both built to withstand the weight or rail transportation. Furthermore, the sidewalks on each of the roadways connecting Second and Third streets over FWW are some of the widest in the city. Knowing the untapped potential of the area that would later become The Banks development, engineers and city officials determined it prudent to build the spans to support pedestrian, vehicular, bus and rail transportation. Now, as the city builds the Cincinnati Streetcar, it can easily and seamlessly connect the central riverfront to the rest of downtown and beyond because the engineers planned for it a full ten years ago.

Another problem along Cincinnati’s central riverfront was the presence of combined sewer overflows (CSOs). The CSOs are the result of an outdated sewer and water pipe system that becomes overloaded during heavy rainfall events. The result is the combination of solid waste and water runoff into our natural waterways like the Ohio River and its tributaries. Due to the health and ecological concerns, the city and county are under a decree to fix the problem over the next decade or so.

Ten years ago, during the reconstruction of FWW, engineers knew that the problem needed to be addressed eventually, so they built storage tunnels along the trench below Third Street. These pipes act as de facto storage tanks when it rains, allowing runoff and raw sewage to stay in the pipes until it can be treated. From this foresight, the number of raw sewage spills in the immediate area has decreased from about 150 per year to around four or five – an achievement determined by ORSANCO to have provided “measurable water quality improvements to the Ohio River.”

Had the engineers not thought to include the transit center below Second Street, installed wide sidewalks for pedestrians, included the capability to safely transport a streetcar, and built water pipes that can withstand the rain, current and future taxpayers would be burdened with the cost of redoing something we constructed a mere decade ago. Building these features before the need arose ensured that the area is not in a constant state of construction. Furthermore, it allows development to proceed more quickly and without additional unnecessary costs.

Ignoring long-term needs is a foolish, dangerous, and potentially expensive way to run a city. While some city leaders of yesterday and today do indeed deserve criticism for a lack of long-term planning, we ought to give credit where credit is due. And the reconstruction of Fort Washington Way is one of those instances. The decisions made by city leaders over a decade ago have saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

Next Wednesday’s segment will discuss how a project involving so many different interested parties could even be accomplished. In the final article, we will provide ideas for the future of the area, and seek feedback from our readers on what the city can do to make the area more inviting.

Development News Politics Transportation

Reconstruction of Fort Washington Way Redefined Cincinnati’s Urban Core

Fort Washington Way might be better known to some Cincinnatians as the I-71/US-50 trench through downtown Cincinnati, but few might know the full story behind how the current area came to be what it is today. Every Wednesday this July, UrbanCincy will cover a part of the history of Fort Washington Way, its construction, the political fights that came with it, and the potential future for the area. Furthermore, the unprecedented foresight that the engineers, politicians, and public alike demonstrated through the construction will be highlighted.

The City of Cincinnati developed where it is today because of its location on the Ohio River. The river served as the primary economic engine for the city and therefore the larger region. As such, the fact that Fort Washington Way bisects the urban core from the riverfront troubles individuals who wish to see the city become whole once again. However, it is important to remember what the stretch of land looked like prior to major renovations a decade ago.

In 1998, construction began on the approximately 1.25-mile stretch of highway. Originally, the plan included burying the stretch of highway completely in order to hide the highway eyesore from the remainder of downtown. However, that idea was overturned in 1996 because many people wanted to ensure that visitors to the city would be able to see it as they traveled through. New plans were completed and construction began.

In 1999, after more than two-thirds of the renovations were complete, there was renewed interest in burying the highway. Proponents claimed that a buried highway would ensure an uninterrupted transition from downtown to the riverfront. The engineers knew that they wouldn’t be able to finish the project on time and on budget if they changed the project so late, so they compromised by sinking the roadway below the level of the rest of downtown’s street grid. Part of this compromise included driving extraordinarily strong support piles into the ground that were engineered to hold caps that could eventually cover the highway if the decision was made to do so at a later date.

The current gaps between segments of the street spanning over Fort Washington Way are spaced such that caps 600 feet wide could be installed with relative ease and with a gap between segments. Gaps ensure that the area is not officially a tunnel, and as a result, the dangers and costs associated with the fire safety precautions of a tunnel are avoided. Engineers state that the pilings supporting the caps could withstand the weight of several feet of dirt, making an unique and exciting urban park possible. Furthermore, the caps could support the weight of buildings approximately four stories high. The latter options would provide the opportunity to link The Banks development with the rest of downtown abutting the current trench.

The major change in the 1998 redesign came by untangling and streamlining the mess of highway on- and off-ramps. Doing so allowed the roadway to carry a greater capacity, increase safety, and dramatically decrease the total width of Fort Washington Way. Once construction was completed, about 40% of the original width was gone as a result of the better design. The space that was saved freed up room for the Great American Ball Park, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Paul Brown Stadium and much of The Banks development.

In the next three weeks, UrbanCincy will highlight how this transformation took place. In the process, we will show how the city demonstrated an unprecedented level of foresight, saving current and future taxpayers untold sums of money. The inter-jurisdictional cooperation that this project achieved set the stage for the redesigned area to win more than a dozen national and international awards.

As one engineer told me: “We weren’t highway building. We were city building.” Check back each Wednesday in July to learn more about how Fort Washington Way project impacted current and future development.