Western Hills Viaduct reopens after falling debris forced closure

CINCINNATI -- Falling concrete from the Western Hills Viaduct's upper deck struck a driver’s windshield Tuesday afternoon, forcing a temporary closure as city crews worked to chip away other loose and potentially dangerous pieces. 

The 85-year-old span is a major commuter route for drivers on the West Side of town, carrying 55,000 vehicles a day, but politicians also have begun to identify it as a symbol of statewide infrastructure woes. Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune didn't waste words when asked to comment Tuesday night.

"It is in disrepair," he said. "It needs to be fixed."

The viaduct is made of steel encased in concrete. Sometimes that concrete on a bridge of its age will break loose and come off, as it did Tuesday, city spokesman Rocky Merz said. He insisted the span was still safe for commuters -- "Crews inspect it regularly," he said -- but driver Cat Bolen said the viaduct’s visible deterioration didn’t inspire confidence.

"Especially recently, you can really see a decline,” she said. “What if someone had been walking?"

A large crack in a ramp connected to the viaduct raised similar drivers' concerns in January.

Engineer Bill Schefick said the city routinely inspects the viaduct twice a year and makes extra inspections when drivers call about their worries.

"Sometimes it’s nothing," he said. "Sometimes it’s something, so we react to every call we get."

He added that the viaduct is not structurally unsafe, but city engineers appreciate communication from drivers who pass over it.

Local politicians say replacing the span is a priority, but it comes with a $310 million price tag.

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