Cincinnati streetcar: Shutdown for concrete repair a unique case, city says

Routine concrete repair an easy fix, engineers say

CINCINNATI -- Some considered it another in a string of black eyes when officials announced earlier this month necessary repairs to the streetcar tracks just six months after service began.

But city engineers say the two faulty concrete slabs holding the tracks -- which they had known about since shortly after service began in September -- represent a unique case.

While re-pouring those sections of concrete on Walnut Street near Ninth and Court streets meant a partial stoppage of streetcar service, most routine concrete repair work moving forward in the streetcar tracks' lifespan wouldn't necessarily require service interruptions.

That's according to the city's Department of Transportation and Engineering Director Michael Moore, whose team of engineers recommended closing the streetcar during throughout the Central Business District while maintaining service throughout Over-the-Rhine.

The service interruption began at 11 p.m. March 19 and was set to expire at 6:30 a.m. March 24. The city chose this week in order to have construction complete and service back to normal levels before Reds Opening Day on April 3.

Hear more about the various options city engineers considered for the repair work and its impact on the streetcar in this video:

 

"With input from City Council and after carefully considering several options, we decided the most efficient and safest approach would be to restrict streetcar and vehicular traffic until the concrete has fully cured," City Manager Harry Black said.

"We regret the inconvenience...but believe it is the best solution for the long term," he said.

Project manager Chris Eilerman, who has worked on streetcar construction since the project began, told City Council's transportation committee that his team did not believe any other slabs along the route were showing the same issues.

Moore said, unlike the re-pouring required in this case, regular due diligence concrete upkeep "can be done most anytime."

That upkeep, Moore said, includes correcting what he characterized as common cracking and other blemishes.

"Shrinkage cracking" is common in relatively new concrete, city engineers said, and routine maintenance is usually a simple fix to prevent further cracking. (Pat LaFleur | WCPO)

"The track slab does exhibit some areas of cracking that is not uncommon with the type of high-performance concrete used in this construction," Moore told WCPO via email. "Shrinkage cracking and surface blemishes in relatively new concrete aren't uncommon and actually have little effect on its strength and performance."

Not only will the work done this week repair the faulty concrete, Moore said, but it also offers his crews an opportunity to address some of the minor cracking that has begun to form as the concrete has dried and settled over the last year.

"While this work can be done most anytime, the service suspension provides a good opportunity to perform these types of regular maintenance operations," he said.

The difference this time, Moore said, was that the warranty guaranteeing the concrete slabs' integrity stipulates that the concrete, once re-poured, has enough time to cure completely. When it comes to "regular maintenance operations," such as sealing cracking, lengthy curing periods usually aren't necessary, he said.

The repair work conducted this week came at no additional cost to the city, but did mean some sort of loss in fare revenue. That said, weekday ridership -- especially on Mondays and Tuesdays -- traditionally has not made up a sizable revenue share.

Moore said future work, including concrete repairs, were built into the streetcar's capital replacement and repair budget.

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur).

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