The Future of Transportation: Are We There Yet?

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CM_MAR15_FEATURE_FutureIconIn a moment of intense regional change, we thought it would be fun to ponder tomorrow from various angles. So for our April 2015 issue, we looked at the immediate future of Cincinnati.

 

In origin, we’re a transportation town: the river, the canals, the steamboats—they made us a significant port city. But trains chose Chicago instead as their Midwestern home, and it seems we’ve obstinately held on to an inferiority complex ever since. The future, however, is ours to build—or not. When it comes to getting there, and getting around once we do, it’s time we climbed back aboard.

What are the transit projects most critical to Cincinnati’s future? We turned to Niehoff Urban Studio at UC—an interdisciplinary program that aims to creatively address our pressing, current urban questions. What we found was a refreshing amount of vision; solutions that approach problems with an eye for the long-haul, rather than the stopgap, it’ll-get-us-to-next-month  measures we’ve largely succumbed to.

With their research and renderings as a beacon and transit budgets and bickering as a bludgeon, here are the projects we believe our city most needs to realize in coming years, and where practicable, our best guess of when that could happen. Our crystal ball can clearly foresee one constant: I-75 will still—always, forever—be under construction.


Wasson Way

Light rail rendering, courtesy UC Niehoff Urban Studio, UC DAAP School of Planning, UC College of Engineering and Applied Science – Civil Engineering Department
What Wasson Way could be: a rendering of a main bike and rail stop at Xavier, courtesy UC Niehoff Urban Studio, UC DAAP School of Planning, UC College of Engineering and Applied Science – Civil Engineering Department

Image by Alison Taylor

Now mostly used to collect trash alongside the road to Kroger, the old freight rail line through Hyde Park is becoming a bike trail. Under development since 2011, the path would run from the Little Miami Bike Trail in Newtown, through the University Station development at Xavier University, and—the result of an expansion decided in January—approach the med-and-ed employment centers of Uptown. “We see it as not just a recreational opportunity but a major commuter route,” says Wasson Way Board President Jay Andress. “It will be 7.6 miles instead of the original 6.5. We’re projecting that after four years there might be a million users per year.” The renderings above show what the Xavier station could look like with light rail; the Niehoff report proposes other stops at Rookwood Commons, Hyde Park Plaza, and Red Bank Station.

  •  KZF Design’s feasibility study puts the cost for the bike trail at $11.2 million
  • Funding is being sought through the Clean Ohio Fund and a federal TIGER grant
  • The city remains in negotiations with Norfolk Southern to acquire the right of way that will let the project happen

 


Light Rail

UC Niehoff Urban Studio rendering of a Fairfax light rail hub, courtesy UC Niehoff Urban Studio, UC DAAP School of Planning, UC College of Engineering and Applied Science – Civil Engineering Department
A plan for a Fairfax light rail hub that would join the proposed Wasson and Oasis lines, courtesy UC Niehoff Urban Studio, UC DAAP School of Planning, UC College of Engineering and Applied Science – Civil Engineering Department

Image by Nicholas Charles and Di Meng

When MetroMoves failed at the ballot in 2002, county-wide light rail was relegated to the back burner. But one aspect has been pushed forward piecemeal: The Oasis line, part of the proposed Eastern Corridor project, would run 17 miles from downtown to Milford. It’s come under fire for proposing limited service (the last morning train would head downtown at 7:30 a.m.) and not connecting population and job–heavy areas, limiting economic development. But it has something theoretical I-75 and I-71 lines don’t yet have: the right of way, and years of planning completed. Niehoff’s vision for a Fairfax hub sees a way forward: It connects the Oasis line with the Wasson Way light rail and bike trail and theorizes dense, residential development nearby—plus views of the Little Miami River.

  • Where it stands: Cost and ridership estimates are being finalized and a financing plan is being put together, so there’s still time to adjust frequency of service, station locations, etc.
  • Best case scenario: ODOT says the Oasis line could be “implemented and operational in three to four years.”

 


Brent Spence Bridge

Brent Spence Bridge rendering, courtesy UC Niehoff Urban Studio, UC DAAP School of Planning, UC College of Engineering and Applied Science – Civil Engineering Department
A western realignment of the bridge with a new central park extending up from the Banks, rendering courtesy UC Niehoff Urban Studio, UC DAAP School of Planning, UC College of Engineering and Applied Science – Civil Engineering Department

Image by Graeme R. Daley

Reading through 15 years of news clips about the Brent Spence Bridge replacement is uncomfortably reminiscent of Groundhog Day: all the political theatrics, but instead of mammals predicting the weather, declarations of the project’s utmost importance are on repeat. It’s the area’s largest and most-expensive-ever infrastructure project, and suitably so: the bridge carries $417 billion in freight each year—3 percent of the U.S. GDP. That number’s only going up, and so is the congestion. National as its significance may be, the bridge’s footprint will indelibly affect us locally. It’s not just a hop-skip across the river; it’s a 7.8-mile stretch of highway being rebuilt. The first time we built I-75, the West End was razed. Our civic future begs for a conciliatory second chance, one that this alternative western realignment of the highway—with a revamped Queensgate neighborhood, new development, and a new park filling I-75’s former path—would grant.

A timeline of the troubled bridge:

  • 1963: Bridge opens
  • 1985: Three lanes become four, leaving narrower lanes and no shoulder
  • 1998: National Bridge Inventory declares it “functionally obsolete”
  • 2003: Project cost reported as $750 million
  • 2009: now Carrying double the daily vehicles it was designed for
  • 2011: Named 15th most-congested spot by Federal Highway Authority
  • 2013: Project cost now more than $2.6 billion, plus another billion in financing and interest costs; hope for construction in 2015
  • 2014: A car falls off bridge; separately, pieces of bridge fall onto a car; named fourth most congested freight location in U.S.
  • 2015: Gov. Beshear says cost rises $7 million each month; governors Kasich and Beshear promise a plan; hope for construction in 2017; the kentucky general assembly’s anti-toll votes suggest otherwise

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