News Opinion Transportation

Here’s How to Improve Access Between Ohio and Kentucky’s East/West Neighborhoods

When discussing regional transportation issues, the topic seems to always be about congestion. In reality, outside of a few limited periods, the Cincinnati region has relatively good traffic flow with little actual congestion. So instead of trying to solve a problem that does not exist, we should be instead focusing our resources on maintaining our current system and improving mobility within the overall region.

As is the case in any city, the natural environment often serves as a chokepoint and barrier to regional mobility. This is true for Cincinnati with its hills and rivers.

With the region’s population largely centered along the Ohio River, it is natural that this is where the most choke points exist. Outside of the center city, however, there are very few river crossings. In fact, there are only two Ohio River crossings outside of the center city, and both of those are for I-275.

One such area that makes sense for a new local road bridge is around Cincinnati’s Columbia Tusculum neighborhood and Dayton, KY near where the $400 million Manhattan Harbour project is planned.

An increasing amount of development continues to occur on the northern bank of the river in Columbia Tusculum and East End. Further up the hill sits prosperous neighborhoods like Mt. Lookout, Hyde Park, and Oakley; and just around the bend lies Lunken Airfield.

Conversely, on the south side of the river in Kentucky, large-scale development projects have long been envisioned, but are often derailed due to poor access via existing roadway networks. This remains true for Manhattan Harbour where concerns exist about the traffic burden that would be placed on the narrow KY 8 running through historic Bellevue’s quaint business district.

A local road bridge that is one lane in each direction with space for pedestrian and bicycle paths would be an ideal fit for this area of the region. It would improve mobility and access to two difficult-to-access areas. It would also offer a highway alternative for those looking to cross between the two states.

A second location where a local bridge of this nature would make sense is near where the Anderson Ferry currently operates today on the city’s west side.

While little development has occurred in this area for some time, this may soon change. The Ohio River Trail West will soon make its way toward this area, and several developers have been eyeing the western riverfront for major projects.

The Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport sits on the southern side of the river where this bridge would land. This area continues to be bolstered by warehouses, distribution facilities and other airport-related services, and could be further bolstered with better access. What’s more, Cincinnati’s western neighborhoods that have long had to deal with excessive airplane noise, yet long treks to the airport, could at least resolve one of those injustices with a new local access bridge.

The Taylor-Southgate Bridge is the most recent span that has been constructed over the Ohio River. It was completed in 1995 and cost $56 million at that time – approximately $85 million when adjusted for inflation. Both of these new bridges would need to span an approximate 1,700-foot-wide width, which is about 300 feet more than the Taylor-Southgate Bridge river width.

One of the main differences, however, is that the Taylor-Southgate Bridge includes two lanes of traffic in each direction, plus sidewalks. The need for only one lane of traffic on these bridges would allow them to have a deck width of around just 30 to 35 feet.

Another good nearby comparison is the U.S. Grant Bridge in Portsmouth, OH. That cable-stayed bridge was completed by the Ohio Department of Transportation in 2006 for approximately $30 million – or about $35 million in today’s dollars.

In addition to access and mobility improvements for motorists, a new bridge in both of these locations would also be a boon for cyclists. Those riding along the Little Miami Scenic Trail and the Ohio River Trail would now also be able to continue on to Northern Kentucky’s Riverfront Commons Trail, which will eventually stretch 11.5 miles from Ludlow to Ft. Thomas.

The Cincinnati region does not need multi-billion dollar solutions for a traffic congestion issues that largely do not exist. Reasonable and affordable projects that aim to increase mobility and access, along with maintaining our existing assets, should be the priority.

New local bridges connecting the region’s east and west side neighborhoods would open up land for new development, improve access between both states, enhance mobility for pedestrians and cyclists, and would do so at a price tag we can afford.

Business News

Take a Look at CVG’s Abandoned Concourse C Through Ronny Salerno’s Lens

Ronny Salerno has established himself as one of the region’s best photo journalists. He covers the stories not often given light in the typical news cycle. The stories he publishes on his website, Queen City Discovery, aren’t often current events, but they are always topical.

One of his more recent features that garnered national attention uncovered the history of a ghost ship left stranded downstream from Cincinnati in a small tributary to the Ohio River. Salerno has become well-known for his thoughtful coverage of abandoned buildings and their stories they hold.

The most recent feature of his looks at the now abandoned Concourse C at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). While Concourse C was once a symbol of CVG’s prominence and significance, it is now a visual reminder of how far the airline industry in general, and the airport in specific, have fallen over the past decade.

Regional air travel, which is what Concourse C catered to through its Comair service, is becoming more and more a thing of the past. Throughout Europe, China, Japan and Korea, where inter-city high speed rail is prevalent, regional air travel has already fallen by the wayside. In North America, inter-city bus travel has grown in popularity while Amtrak sets ridership records each year.

But still, no sign of comprehensive inter-city high speed rail seems to be anywhere in the near future for Canada and the United States. What will that mean for metropolitan regions with millions of people, like Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Cleveland, now being left off the map? Smaller regions, like Birmingham, already lack expansive air service and must rely on larger metropolitan regions nearby for service.

Many cities and regions are being left off the map and have fewer and fewer transportation options to get from one city to the next. Who knows what that will mean for these people and regions in the future, but for now please take a look back at the history and stories of CVG’s Concourse C.

The Concourse: Part 1 – Island in a Stream of Runways
The Concourse: Part 2 – Unaccompanied Minor
The Concourse: Part 3 – The Film (embedded above)

The fall of 1994 was a good time for regional airliner Comair, the company had just opened a second hub in its hometown at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Regional Airport (CVG). Dubbed “Concourse C,” the building was an island in a stream of runways, accessible to passengers only via shuttle busses and the flights they arrived on. The concourse was always a center of human activity amongst the tarmac – featuring shops, eateries and over 50 gates to destinations across the continental United States.

It was a place where people reunited, strangers shared drinks between travels and employees fought the daily grind.

Comair was purchased by Delta Airlines in 2000 and both airlines plunged into bankruptcy protection by 2005. After emerging from bankruptcy in 2007, Delta began to scale back Comair flights and eventually relocated all operations to another section of the airport in 2008. Concourse C was left abandoned. In 2012, Delta completely folded Comair.

Today, Concourse C still remains out in the middle of the runways: no passengers, few visitors and closed off to the general public. It’s eerily quiet state is a stark contrast to the sea of humanity that once flowed through it. On a recent exclusive tour of the facility, I was able to make this short film in addition to several photographs.

Business News

EACC conference aims to jumpstart region’s skilled labor workforce

The European-American Chamber of Commerce (EACC) will host its annual conference at the Hilton Netherland Plaza in downtown Cincinnati today. The goal of this year’s conference is to examine the best practices for recapitalizing America’s skilled workforce for global competitiveness.

While the discussion will be aimed at large economic trends, local business leaders see the conference as an opportunity to better position the Cincinnati region for additional foreign investment.

“While this conversation has been ongoing in our region, we are providing a platform for community stakeholders to connect and discuss how we can work to grow our skilled labor work force on both sides of the Atlantic,” EACC executive director Anne Capel stated.

Sites like the former Newport Steel property offer land for potential expansion of the region’s skilled labor workforce. Photograph by Randy A. Simes for UrbanCincy.

According to local business leaders, one of the ways in which the United States in general, and the Cincinnati region specifically, could improve is through better training and coordination between academic institutions and businesses.

“There is a great need for skilled manufactures like machinists and mechatronics,” explained HAHN Automation CEO, and EACC President, John Baines. “And a common complaint from European business leaders is that they can’t find this kind of talent.”

Baines went on to say that a key difference between Europe and the United States is the prevalence of apprenticeship programs. Such programs, he says, give Europeans a leg up in skilled manufacturing since, in some cases, people have been working in the fields since they were 13-years-old. Cincinnati-area business and community leaders are hoping that this year’s EACC conference will help change all that and close the gap between workforces.

“Skilled trade is a great way to go,” said Baines whose company opened its North American headquarters in Hebron, KY in 2001 and currently employs 50 people. “You are able to avoid debt by working while you study, and get both theoretical and practical experience.”

He says that the EACC is trying to encourage skilled manufacturing companies throughout the region to develop apprenticeship programs of their own, and hopes that academic institutions will stay up-to-date with technological advances and skills training needed by the industry.

The issue is so important to Baines and HANH Automation’s North American operations based out of Hebron, KY that he says the company is working on its own apprenticeship program that will hopefully be in place in no more than one to two years.

“I hope business leaders will walk away [from the conference] seeing the value in these apprenticeship programs,” Baines concluded. “It is important that community leaders appreciate the value of skilled labor and see it as a good career path. It’s a very respectable career with good pay, and an almost guaranteed job should you have the right training.”

The 2012 EACC Skilled Labor Workforce Conference will host more than 200 attendees today and will feature speakers from academic, public and private sectors. Keynote addresses will be given by Karen Eizey, director of the Skills for America’s Future program at The Aspen Institute, and Joerg Ernst, executive vice president of global business at Siemens AG.

Arts & Entertainment News Opinion

Airport officials should pay local artists to fill CVG with music

Violinist at Findlay Market

As many of you may know by now, Cincinnati will be hosting the 2012 World Choir Games. It is a marque event for the region, and will mark the first time the international event has been held in North America. Tens of thousands of people from around the world will converge on Cincinnati, and regional leaders are looking to impress.

The ideas have ranged from installing multilingual signs throughout the center city to branding a new city slogan all around town in time for the visitors. What is important is that city leaders do not view this event as a singular excuse to debate these types of improvements, but rather as an event that allows Cincinnati to looks at itself from the outside in and implement new ideas that will leave a lasting impact long after the final choir leaves town.

Cincinnati does in fact have a long history with music and the arts in general. It is one of the major reasons why the World Choir Games selected Cincinnati as its 2012 host, and this fact should be celebrated. Cincinnati leaders should look at ways to engraining more of the arts, and music in particular, into our everyday lives.

ArtsWave does a great job at this, and does so at a regional level. But after a flurry of recent travels I had an idea for Cincinnati that should be put in place in time for the World Choir Games, and stay in effect permanently.

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport should pay local muscians to play within its facilities. Inside the concourse tunnel, inside Concourse B, and near baggage claim.

Traveling can often be a stressful experience, especially international travel. On a recent trip to Chicago, I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by violin and guitar musicians after an otherwise unpleasant flight and arrival experience. The moment, while simple, was profound. I felt relaxed and welcomed to Chicago – something all travelers hope to encounter upon their arrival.

To avoid the ‘bum on the street’ perception, airport officials should ask that musicians not leave open their instrument cases for tips, and simply pay the musicians an hourly rate. In my opinion, this would go much farther towards welcoming visitors to the Cincinnati region than any inanimate piece of art could ever do. At the same time, it would provide a reliable opportunity for local musicians to perform and get paid doing it.

Cincinnati should take advantage of the World Choir Games far beyond the immediate $73.5 million economic impact that it is estimated to generate. Most importantly, leaders should not get too caught up in those short-term impacts that they miss out on creating long-term benefits for the region.

DISCLOSURE: Jenny Kessler is a regular contributor to UrbanCincy and serves as the website’s operations manager. Kessler also works professionally for ArtsWave, but had no input or association with this article. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Randy A. Simes, and do not necessarily represent those of ArtsWave.

Business Development News Opinion Transportation

Lagging air service at CVG may mean more trouble than just Chiquita’s departure

In 1987, the same year that Chiquita announced its move to Cincinnati from New York City, Delta Airlines began its first non-stop flights to Europe from what was then called the Greater Cincinnati Airport. 18 years later, the airport’s “Hub Era”, as the period is described on the airport’s own website, drew to a close just as a third north-south runway was completed. Since that $250 million runway opened in 2005, total annual passengers at CVG have fallen from 22.8 million to 7.9 million.

In 1998, at the height of the Delta hub’s growth, the Cincinnati Metropolitan Growth Alliance hired Michael Gallis, a Charlotte-based planning consultant, to deliver a report on the state of Cincinnati [Download the Gallis Report] and how it must position itself for the 21st century. Given this week’s news regarding Chiquita, this passage from the report is especially prophetic:

“The Airport cannot be taken for granted. There is strong competition for airline activity and hub status among metro regions. Therefore, it is essential to continue involvement with the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to assure its continuing status as a major global hub.”

Unlike in Europe, where government-owned airlines don’t shift their hub operations, American cities are at the mercy of the finances of those airlines that serve them. Chiquita is moving to Charlotte primarily because of the relative health of US Airways versus Delta — the City of Cincinnati has no say in the affairs of Delta Airlines or even the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport.

Charlotte will add Chiquita to its corporate roster in late 2012.

So is Cincinnati finished as a viable location for international business because of Delta’s 2006 bankruptcy? Since second-tier cities like Cincinnati and Charlotte are at the mercy of their airport’s hub operator, won’t Chiquita find itself in a similar situation when US Airways inevitably suffers similar financial problems?

The great frustration is that all of this could have been avoided if at the cusp of the jet age a major airport had been built in Butler County so as to draw from the combined 3-plus million population of Cincinnati and Dayton. Such an airport could have attracted all of the development that now occupies Boone County, Kentucky, and the larger combined population would have ensured multiple major carriers.

Is a continued reliance on CVG a strategy that dooms Cincinnati’s potential? There is a temptation, given the billions invested in that facility over the past 60 years, to dismiss any notion of constructing a new airport in Ohio. But with no futuristic transportation mode on the horizon, it appears that jet travel will continue in a form similar to what exists now for decades to come.

A new airport in Butler County, served by I-75 and a new rail transit line linking downtown Cincinnati and downtown Dayton, is the sort of investment that area business leaders and the State of Ohio should be pushing to ensure southwest Ohio’s competitiveness.