Business News Politics Transportation

President Obama Shifts Attention Toward Economy, Cities in 2013 State of the Union Address

President Barack Obama (D) delivered the annual State of the Union address last evening. The hour-long speech covered a wide range of topics including gun control, military policy, immigration reform, voting rights, domestic economic programs, education reform, and energy policy.

One of the most-discussed topics of the evening was when the President announced his aspirations to see the national minimum wage raised to $9 an hour. The current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour results in an annual income of $14,500 – a number the President says keeps families with two minimum wage earners below the poverty line.

In 2006, Ohioans voted to raise the state’s minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.85 an hour, with an annual cost-of-living escalator.

“This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families,” President Obama stated. “It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets.”

Brent Spence Bridge Alternative 1

Brent Spence Bridge Alternative 2
The President called for a “Fix-It-First” program during his State of the Union address, but will it make a difference for Cincinnati’s Brent Spence Bridge Rehabilitation/Replacement project? Brent Spence Bridge replacement Alternative 1 (TOP) and Alternative 2 (BOTTOM) renderings provided.

Since the last time Congress voted to increase the federal minimum wage, which is effective for all states that have a minimum wage lower than the federal level, 19 different states have voted to raise their respective rates. The President’s $9 an hour proposal with an annual cost-of-living escalator would place it above every state in the union with the exception of Washington which pays its lowest earning workers $9.19 an hour.

In addition to raising the pay for the nation’s lowest earners, the President also pushed for new programs meant to spur job growth in a new economy. He called for the reform of high school education to more effectively train graduates to be able to fill high-tech jobs.

He also asked Congress to create a network of 15 manufacturing innovation hubs, modeled after the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) established in Youngstown, OH in August 2012. Those cities selected, the President says, would work to partner businesses with the Department of Defense and Energy.

The President stated that the goal is to transform “regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs” in an effort to jumpstart the next revolution in manufacturing.

The advanced manufacturing policy proposal is one that should certainly catch the attention of local policy leaders as they work to transform Cincinnati’s Mill Creek Valley into a productive economic engine for the 21st century, as laid out in the Growth & Opportunities Cincinnati Plan published in 2008.

Another point of emphasis during the President’s first State of the Union address of his second term revolved around repairing the nation’s existing built environment.

To that end, he discussed retrofitting buildings to become more energy efficient, and announced a goal to cut energy wasted by homes and businesses in half over the next 20 years. President Obama continued by calling for a program that would prioritize infrastructure spending on existing assets in need of repair, like Ohio and Kentucky’s combined 4,054 deficient bridges.

“I propose a ‘Fix-It-First’ program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs,” said President Obama. “And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children.”

Perhaps the biggest bi-partisan applause of the night went to the President’s condemnation of gun violence and call for action to prevent further atrocities like those at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and those that occur on the streets of America’s cities every day.

“Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight,” President Obama clarified. “But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.”

Up To Speed

Could Queensgate become an American hub for advanced manufacturing?

Could Queensgate become an American hub for advanced manufacturing?.

Cincinnati leaders have been looking for a way to transform the region’s industrial Mill Creek Valley. With a possible new program designed at training people in advanced manufacturing, might this be a new opportunity for Queensgate and the other neighborhoods in the valley? More from Next City:

The cutely named “Race to the Shop” is envisioned as a $150 million competition that would let cities and states vie for federal funding to support long-term strategic investment in workforce development for the advanced manufacturing sector…The policy recommendation is one of three focused on strengthening the American manufacturing sector — a sector that disproportionately affects cities (79.5 percent of manufacturing jobs are located in major metropolitan areas).

One of the proposals recommend congressional funding of at least 25 advanced industry innovation hubs themed around specific interests, some of which have an environmental silver lining such as carbon capture and storage. Modeled after the Department of Energy’s Energy Innovation Hubs program, which has its flagship site in Philadelphia, and the Department of Commerce’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), the hubs would be industry-led alliances of public, private and academic actors organized regionally.

Development News Transportation

PHOTOS: $55M Waldvogel Viaduct reconstruction nearing completion

The reconstruction of the Waldvogel Viaduct was spared from the massive spending cuts at the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) last January, and has been able to continue on its scheduled path.

According to City of Cincinnati officials, the project will replace the existing, half-mile structure that connects the Sixth Street Expressway to Elberon Avenue, Warsaw Avenue and River Road in Lower Price Hill and Queensgate. The existing structure had been deteriorating at a rapid pace, and had been rated in “Poor” condition for several years leading up to the project.

The $55 million Waldvogel Viaduct reconstruction project is also preserving space for a future bicycle / pedestrian path planned for Cincinnati’s western riverfront.

As of this month, very little remains of the 73-year-old elevated roadway. UrbanCincy contributor, Jake Mecklenborg, visited the construction site last week to capture the visual progress being made in Lower Price Hill.

Arts & Entertainment Development Transportation

New time-lapse video captures movement of people and machines in Cincinnati

Friend of UrbanCincy and regular URBANexchange attendee, Andrew Stahlke, has produced a new time-lapse video of Cincinnati.

The video showcases construction work at the $400 million Horseshoe Casino, Little Miami Scenic Trail, Eden Park Overlook, boats on the Ohio River, circus training at Burnett Woods, freight activity at the Queensgate Railyards, construction of the new $66.5 million Waldvogel Viaduct, fans at Great American Ball Park, and many other scenes from around Cincinnati.

Stahlke is currently enrolled in the Masters of Community Planning program at the University of Cincinnati, and originally studied civil engineering at Case Western University.

The video, entitled Paths and Nodes: Cincinnati, attempts to capture the life of the city as people and machines move about, and was shot in early fall 2012. It is a nearly three minutes in length, and features music from Little People.

Business Development News Transportation

Massive funding cuts at ODOT pose threat for Cincinnati-area projects

The tentative project list released last week by the Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) Transportation Review Advisory Committee (TRAC) will delay many major highway construction projects throughout the Cincinnati region.

Some of the Cincinnati-area projects to be impacted by ODOT’s budget crisis include the Oasis commuter rail line which had its funding erased, the highway portion of the Eastern Corridor Project which has now been delayed, and start dates on future phases of I-75 reconstruction work have been pushed beyond 2020.

ODOT’s cuts have also affected the City of Cincinnati’s West MLK Drive Access Improvement, since that project was coordinated with phase four of the I-75 Millcreek Expressway project. Some of that prep work has begun with ODOT demolishing the old Interstate Motel and several apartment buildings near McMicken Street in 2011 in preparation for reconstruction of the Hopple Street interchange in 2013.

Martin Luther King Drive works its way uptown [LEFT]. An aerial view of the Hopple Street Interchange [RIGHT]. Photographs by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

With $109 million in Millcreek Expressway phase four funds now delayed until after 2020, Michael Moore, Director of the Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE), told UrbanCincy that the city will continue to proceed with work planned for MLK Drive between Dixmyth Avenue and McMicken Street in 2012.

“We will have to modify the west end of the project, since our design ties into the ODOT work,” explained Moore. “Then ODOT will have to modify their eastern end to tie into our work. At issue will be how the shared bike/hike path terminates, but there is really little that can be done at this time with our project to connect to Central Parkway without the reconstruction of the Hopple Street bridge.”

Two miles east of the West MLK Drive Access Improvement, preliminary planning will continue for an interchange between East MLK and I-71. TRAC has programmed $3 million to fund environmental studies, select a preferred alternative, and perform preliminary design work.

Construction work progresses on the Waldvogel Viaduct in Lower Price Hill. Photograph by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

“No timetable had been set for construction, since this preliminary work had not been funded, but this TRAC infusion is good news and allows us to move ahead to prepare plans,” Moore detailed. “ODOT is also working out a plan of action for changing this project to the new Plan Development Process. This should help streamline the project development a bit.”

Elsewhere, phase one reconstruction work on I-75 will continue near Mitchell Avenue, and work on phase three, the reconstruction of the I-74 Beekman/Colerain interchange, has been fully funded and will commence later this year. However, funding for reconstruction of the I-75/I-74 interchange and all work south of that point has been delayed, as has all planned work between the Norwood Lateral and I-275.

When asked about the ongoing work on the Waldvogel Viaduct, DOTE’s director informed UrbanCincy that the reconstruction project has been fully funded, and will not be affected by ODOT’s cuts. A second phase of that project, which involves upgrades to the Sixth Street Expressway, has also been fully funded and will proceed as planned.

Download a PDF of TRAC’s entire project list.