We might finally have a solution for the eroding Western Hills Viaduct

CINCINNATI -- There might finally be a fix for the aging Western Hills Viaduct, if one Hamilton County commissioner's plan comes true.

Commissioner Todd Portune is set to unveil his plan on Monday: It would provide a possible funding solution to help replace the 85-year-old span that serves as the primary connector between the West Side and Downtown -- a project estimated to cost more than $330 million.

Portune's plan has two parts: 

  • Take the county-wide quarter-cent sales tax going toward the Union Terminal renovation project -- a tax currently scheduled to expire in 2019 -- and extend it for another five years, toward the viaduct rebuild.
  • Increase the auto registration fee. State law says counties are allowed to increase this fee by up to $5 each year, as long as the money goes toward road-improvement projects.

The sales tax extension would require voter approval, and the commission would still have to approve the increase in the registration fee increase. The sales tax wouldn't even appear on the ballot until 2018 at the earliest.

Portune said about half of the registration fee increase -- that is, between $20-30 million out of roughly $40 million in revenue -- would go toward the viaduct under his proposal.

"This is not a concrete plan yet," Portune told WCPO. "It's not guaranteed by any stretch of the imagination. It's not packaged yet. It's not put together yet."

Portune is set to present the plan to the county's Transportation Improvement District on Monday.

These changes would bring in roughly $45 million each year, but that's just the possible local contribution, Portune said.

"We should not be in a position to pay for this bridge all by ourselves," Portune said, alluding to the potential for finding state and federal funding to contribute as well.

"There are a lot of rocks that have not been turned over," he said. 

Completed in 1932, the viaduct has been the subject of strict scrutiny for nearly a decade, and has become a symbol of the region's infrastructure woes. This is especially true within the last year, when motorists began noticing cracks along the structure's side. Just last month a chunk of concrete fell from the upper deck onto a driver's windshield.

While technically "structurally sound," the bridge suffers one of the lowest bridge ratings possible, deeming it necessary not just to upgrade, but to replace.

"It is in disrepair," Portune told WCPO shortly after the concrete chunk fell. "It needs to be fixed."

Portune was also quick to emphasize how, in order to sell this project to voters, it needs to be a part of a larger vision.

"It has to be a part of a much larger plan of attack on how we take our existing infrastructure and transit system, and link it to a long-range vision," he said.

Portune remained positive about voter support for a sales tax measure in a county well-known for its opposition to sales tax proposals intended for transportation projects.

"Most people get how important this project is," he said. "Everyone will use this."

Portune is set to introduce his plan at Monday's TID meeting.

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

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