It's the long way around for pedestrians during Marburg Bridge closure

CINCINNATI -- Motorists aren't the only ones who might have to take the long way around when going from Hyde Park to Oakley, once construction on the aging Marburg Avenue connector bridge gets into full swing later this month.

Pedestrians and cyclists, too, will have to seek alternatives, but -- for pedestrians at least -- detour options are less clear.

The bridge, built in 1931, crosses over the since-decommissioned Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks near Wasson Road, and is set to close for as long as six months beginning March 20, said City Manager Harry Black in a memo released last week. Preliminary construction work will begin one week earlier, Black said.

The only significant work done on the bridge during its 80-plus years standing was when crews widened it in the 1960s, according to Department of Transportation and Engineering Director Michael Moore. 

Today, the bridge is considered in "poor condition" and "structurally deficient" according to federal bridge rating standards, Moore told City Council in February, requiring a full closure in order to safely and adequately build a replacement bridge.

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The city laid out its detour plan in this map, attached to Friday's memo:

The Marburg Avenue Bridge closure prompted the city to offer these detours along the border of Cincinnati's Hyde Park and Oakley neighborhoods. (Provided)

These detours were the result of a survey of area residents, asking for input on which detours and traffic restrictions they preferred. The above map was the result of those inquiries.

Notably, the map does not indicate modes of transportation in its detour instructions.

Moore said his department is still working to identify alternatives for pedestrians in the area: "We are continuing to assess options to provide pedestrian access during the closure, but have not yet identified a viable option," he told WCPO via email.

"Pedestrians may follow the vehicular detour route, or may find shorter options along Portsmouth or Victoria Avenue," he said.

While pedestrian travel is generally more time-consuming that vehicular travel, for pedestrians using the vehicular detours -- even the "shorter options" Moore identified -- the re-routes will add significant commute time, more drastic than that motorists could see.

Take, for example, a neighborhood resident who wants to spend the morning at Oakley Playground on Paxton Avenue, then spend the afternoon at Ault Park in Hyde Park on Observatory Avenue. With the bridge closure, the available vehicular detours add anywhere from 2-3 minutes to what would be a five-minute drive, were the bridge available to use:

Google Maps image displaying travel times from Oakley Playground to Ault Park, both using and avoiding Marburg Avenue Bridge. (Google)

The detours have a bigger impact on pedestrians looking to make the same trip, adding almost 15 minutes to travel time, from 27 minutes to 39 minutes:

Google Maps image displaying estimated walk time (in left sidebar) from Oakley Playground to Ault Park using the Marburg Avenue Bridge. (Google)

Google Maps image displaying estimated walk time (in left sidebar) from Oakley Playground to Ault Park detoured around the Marburg Avenue Bridge. (Google)

Moore explained during the February hearing that there was no way around the closure, given the way the crews will need to configure the construction zone. The only space that can accommodate the heavy equipment needed to construct the bridge will mean having to hoist large concrete slabs up and over the bridge, Moore said:

Rendering of the Marburg Avenue Bridge construction zone configuration. (Provided/City of Cincinnati)

It's this tight configuration that also prevented the city from pursuing a temporary bridge solution during the closure, as some other cities have done in the past. Chicago, for instance, employed a temporary bridge structure while constructing a replacement for the more than 100-year-old Trunnion Bascule over the North Canal

While there is a variety of temporary bridge designs available, Moore said this wasn't a viable solution for the Marburg replacement, because of the nearby residential properties' proximity to the construction site.

"Due to the close proximity of homes on the south side of the construction site, a temporary bridge, unfortunately, isn't feasible at or near the current bridge location," Moore said.

Moore said the bridge will remain closed for up to six months after construction begins.

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

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