New Metro transit hub coming to already-booming Oakley intersection

CINCINNATI -- The intersection of Ibsen and Marburg avenues in Oakley is fast becoming one of the city's most bustling. It's also been on the city's radar for revamp for some time.

Now, a new transit hub serving Cincinnati Metro bus riders will add more momentum to recent developments like the 14-screen CineMark movie theater and the massive, 74-acre Oakley Station development, which contains a new Kroger location just across the street, transit and city officials hope.

"We've been talking about this for a couple years now," Metro spokeswoman Brandy Jones told WCPO. "With all the development happening there, we wanted to make sure we had a new transit center that will attract new riders, as well as serves current customers."

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When it opened in September 2015, the Oakley Station Kroger became the grocery giant's second-largest nationwide, at 145,000 square feet and a staff of nearly 500 employees.

The transit center is one of three new large-scale transit enhancement projects in the works for Metro: A new transit hub is planned for Northside's Hamilton Avenue corridor at Knowlton's Corner, while improvements are also in store for Peeble's Corner in the heart of Walnut Hills.

Jones said the Oakley transit center will look a lot like Government Square -- positioned around Downtown's Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse -- in that it will provide enhanced shelters, off-street boarding bays, real-time arrival screens and way-finding maps.

Jones said that while the transit center will not be considered a park-and-ride location, there will be parking spaces available nearby for those who aren't able to walk, bicycle or ride another bus to that location.

All stops currently located in the vicinity are simple pole stops -- meaning no shelter, no bench. It can even mean no sidewalks in some locations throughout Metro's bus network. Five Metro routes serve the intersection: local routes 4 and 11, crosstown routes 41 and 51, and the express 12X route. 

"That's a wide variety of types of bus riders this will serve," Jones said.

The Oakley transit center will join similar transit centers at Government Square, the Cincinnati Zoo, the Anderson Transit Center, the Glenway Transit Center, and the Uptown Transit District at the University of Cincinnati. 

The transit center is a small piece of the much larger "Reinvent Metro" initiative, unveiled in the fall of 2016, that outlines a broad-strokes plan for how to increase ridership to 20 million rides annually by 2021. Currently, Cincinnati Metro provides roughly 17 million rides annually, but recent years has seen a decline.

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Construction in Oakley is slated to begin this spring, and will cost roughly $1.1 million, paid for by a Federal Surface Transportation Program grant as well as local funds.

The project's timing aligns with the Marburg Bridge replacement just down Marburg Avenue, also set to begin this spring. Some residents expressed concern Tuesday to City Council's transportation committee over how the replacement will involve a six-month full closure of the bridge and significant traffic diversions.

As for the transit center, both Jones and the city's Department of Transportation and Engineering Director Michael Moore said they do not expect a significant impact on traffic.

"The vast majority of the construction work will take place outside of the right-of-way," Jones said. "There will be some minor street work; however, we don't expect it to have much impact on traffic."

Moore echoed, saying in an email Wednesday, "We went through exhaustive exercises to locate all existing underground utilities on the site and designed around their anticipated locations; however, there is still a risk that the volume and location of some underground utilities may require some construction modifications once actual locations are identified."

Moore went on to say that Oakley has been a targeted spot for a transit hub for some time.

"The Oakley vicinity is identified in earlier studies as needing a transit hub to improve and encourage transit-oriented development and pedestrian connectivity," he said, pointing to the 2012 Kennedy Connector project, which among other enhancements, realigned Ibsen Avenue near Marburg to improve pedestrian access and encourage development to the intersection's northwest, toward Interstate 71.

Officials did not indicate a specific timeline for construction.

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

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