When it comes to travel in Cincinnati USA, what you hear from locals and what you see on a map may be two very different things. The city and surrounding region have an impressive assortment of highways, each often possessing its own unofficial nickname (or two). Add to this a major river spanned by multiple bridges and Cincinnati’s proximity to two other states—Kentucky and Indiana—and you have a perfect storm for even the most travel-savvy tourists.
Fear not, however. Once you understand the local terminology, Cincinnati is easy to traverse, with light traffic and easy commutes when compared to cities like Chicago and Atlanta.
Downtown is the obvious city center, but the Cincinnati USA region extends north and east, as well as west into Indiana and south into Kentucky. The Ohio River and other major thoroughfares act as clear boundaries to help newcomers make their way around town.
I-75 » A major north-south artery, I-75 is situated slightly west of the city. For suburbanites in both Ohio and Northern Kentucky, I-75 is often the most direct way to travel to and from downtown. However, I-75’s multi-state reach means you’ll encounter some long-haul truck traffic.
I-71 » Whereas I-75 runs more directly north/south, I-71 runs slightly northeast/southwest. It is also common for suburbanites to use I-71 when traveling into town. I-71 joins with I-75 going south at the Brent Spence Bridge, and they cross the Ohio River together into Kentucky, splitting again after approximately 20 miles.
I-275 » At 84.5 miles, it’s the longest loop highway in the U.S. and the only loop to travel through three states (Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana). It intersects (and connects) many of the area’s major thoroughfares. More oval than circle, 275 is often the most convenient way to reach the area’s eastern- and western-most neighbors, such as Eastgate or Lawrenceburg, Ind.
I-471 » A 4.8-mile expressway connecting I-71 downtown with I-275 in Alexandria, Ky., I-471 passes by Newport, Ky., and other attractions on the riverfront.
I-74 » Beginning just north of downtown Cincinnati and heading 429 miles west, I-74 is most commonly used to get to Cincinnati’s western neighborhoods.
Ohio Rt. 562 » This state route connects I-71 to I-75 through the city of Norwood. As a result, locals often refer to this stretch as the Norwood Lateral, though you’ll never see a sign confirming this nickname. Though it’s only three miles long, it’s surprisingly useful, especially as a means of avoiding traffic on the major interstates.
Ohio Highway 126 » When it comes to highway names, this route is the most confusing for new residents. Most natives refer to it as Cross County Highway—it dissects three counties on its 41-mile path from Ross, Ohio (west, near the Ohio/Indiana border), to Montgomery (a northeast suburb). In 1997, officials renamed the expressway in honor of the 40th U.S. president, hence the third name you’ll hear: Ronald Reagan Highway. In fact, you can often tell how long someone’s lived in town by what he or she calls this road. Long-time residents refer to Cross County when giving directions. Newer residents (and die-hard Republicans) will use the more up-to-date “Ronald Reagan.”
Here are a few more tricks for deciphering the local travel jargon:
The Viaduct » This is a verbal shortcut describing the Western Hills Viaduct. Twice as long as any of the Ohio River bridges, it connects Harrison Avenue and Central Parkway, thus linking the center of town to the city’s West Side.
Big Mac Bridge » Officially named the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge in honor of the Boy Scouts founder who grew up in the area, this bridge allows I-471 to cross the river. As a result, locals sometimes call it the 471 bridge. But far more common is the use of its nickname—the Big Mac Bridge. The name derives from the early 1980s when McDonald’s attempted to open a floating restaurant in Newport, Ky. Plans fell through but the name remains, also thanks in part to the bridge’s bright yellow arches.
Purple People Bridge » Officially named the Newport Southbank Bridge, this colorful, pedestrian-only bridge connects the Cincinnati riverfront with the Newport riverfront.
Fort Washington Way » This highway connects I-71 and I-75 through the city center, as well as provides access to U.S. 50, which heads east along the Ohio River, serving as the main route to the city’s southeastern neighborhoods. Here’s the twist: Along the way, U.S. 50 changes names several times, creating confusion among the uninitiated. Out of downtown, U.S. 50 becomes Columbia Parkway and eventually Wooster Pike. Though puzzling at times, U.S. 50 is a scenic, must-see drive for newcomers.
The Cut In The Hill » This is a 1.3-mile section of I-71/I-75 that slices through hills along the Ohio River. The northbound lanes boast a stunning view of Cincinnati as they round a bend to suddenly reveal our iconic skyline. And during rush hour, you might have ample time to take in the view, as this stretch often becomes particularly congested in both directions.
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