With all this construction, how does one get Downtown?

Posted at 7:00 AM, Aug 05, 2016

CINCINNATI -- All roads don't lead to downtown Cincinnati, and as summer construction projects continue and compound in recent weeks, this statement has become all the more true.

When considering some of the major access points into the city's central business district, a few key arteries come to mind: Lytle Tunnel, the Brent Spence Bridge, the Taylor-Southgate Bridge, among others.

But, as commuters have been noticing in recent weeks, a number of those spots have undergone traffic pattern changes or major lane restrictions as several concurrent projects got underway, choking several of those routes -- and even some of their alternatives. It's left some wondering if there are any headache-free paths into Downtown left.

From the east

Probably the most dramatic of these recent changes was the closing of the Third Street ramp connecting Interstate 71 southbound with Downtown and The Banks. The closure is part of a larger project to replace the decking of the bridge approaching the tunnel from the north, which state transportation officials said has begun deteriorating.

I-71 southbound approaching Lytle Tunnel. (Google, File)

"We’ve been patching, and the patches are what's holding," said Brian Cunningham, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation, in a previous interview with WCPO.

"We really had to get out there and get it fixed," he said.

Aside from the project's $10 million price tag, it's also costing the patience -- and certainly the time -- of the estimated 100,000 daily commuters passing through the stretch.

On top of the Third Street exit's closure, traffic patterns got a serious facelift as the project launched: Southbound lanes approaching the tunnel are now re-routed around the deteriorating bridge to the northbound side before switching back as traffic enters the tunnel.

IN DEPTH: What's next for city's aging bridges

And as for hopping on the freeway from Downtown? The Second Street entrance ramp into Lytle Tunnel and onto I-71 northbound was closed earlier this year as crews began much needed overhaul of the tunnel and surrounding roadways.

Officials have offered Eighth Street via the Gilbert Avenue exit from I-71 south as an alternative for those coming from the north, but an ongoing mixed-use development project, which will include a 17-story apartment tower at Eighth and Sycamore streets, has meant repeated lane closures along that route.

Michael Moore, who heads the city's Department of Transportation and Engineering, said the city has noted increased congestion along other Downtown routes, saying Eighth Street's intersections with Gilbert and Sycamore have been "particularly affected."

Much of that congestion will be mitigated, Moore said, now that construction on the development’s parking garage concluded last week.

"Fortunately, the garage/apartment project at Sycamore and Eighth has reached a point where its construction fencing on Eighth can be pulled onto the sidewalk during peak commuting hours," Moore said in an email Wednesday.

Moore said his department would continue to monitor the situation and would consider adjusting traffic signal timing if congestion persists.

From the west

The city’s West Side still has multiple open points of freeway access: Downtown's Second, Fifth and Seventh streets are all fed by Interstate 75 exit ramps, and nearby West End has on- and off-ramps to and from I-75 at Ezzard Charles Avenue, which connects to Central Parkway into the city center.

But the Central Parkway area just recently lost its feeder from Interstate 74, which has served as the primary Downtown connection for the city's northwestern neighborhoods, as well as the rest of western Hamilton County.

READ MORE: Council divided over Elmore Street connector bridge

The bridge was closed earlier this year, scheduled for demolition as part of the ongoing Mill Creek Expressway construction project along I-75. City leaders approved in May a plan to design a prospective multi-modal bridge that would extend from South Cumminsville to Central Parkway just below Cincinnati State Technical and Community College in Clifton. Only funding for the bridge's design was approved.

From the south

If you think that's all, think again.

A months-long overhaul of Ky. 9, which runs through Campbell County, terminating on Central Avenue at Newport's flood wall, has already prompted major changes in the area's traffic patterns. The project includes reconfiguring the intersection of nearby Third and York streets, which means closing southbound York between Third and Fourth streets and converting the previously one-way, northbound Monmouth Street, which sits one block east.

Monmouth, which overlaps with U.S. 27 through downtown Newport, provided a three-lane thoroughfare and a heavily used artery directly into downtown Cincinnati, via the Taylor-Southgate Bridge.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokeswoman Nancy Wood told WCPO that it will take some time for drivers to adjust to the new configuration, which is scheduled to remain until March 2017.

"I think once it gets soaked in, (drivers) know other ways to take or what to expect," Wood said. "It will smooth itself out."

Wood said her department prepared for the adjustment through public outreach and modifying traffic signal patterns.

"We’re keeping an eye on it, making sure the signals are adjusted accordingly," she said.

Wood's department removed the signal directing traffic at the intersection of Third and York to accommodate increased flow east toward Monmouth.

Silver lining? The reconfiguration project will include two new roundabouts and a newly paved road connecting them.

So, in the meantime?

There's really no secret weapon or magic trick that will solve commuters' increased time on the road as these projects continue: Wood's notion that it will smooth itself out is usually the case, and, likewise, Moore advised drivers to be particularly attentive around construction zones.

Moore added that a little extra planning, and patience, can make a huge difference.

"A little kindness, consideration and patience toward others can go a long way toward making the delays shorter and more bearable," he said.

Other alternatives are available, too, even if they take commuters a bit out of their way. Covington's Roebling Suspension Bridge is reachable from Newport with just a few added minutes, and the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge is not much farther west down Fourth Street. The Daniel Carter Beard Bridge (Interstate 471) also offers access to Sixth and Liberty streets, and Third Street via a quick hop onto U.S. 50/Fort Washington Way.

And there's always the Brent Spence... but we won't go there.

See this map for the status of various entryways into Downtown, as of Thursday. Use the +/- button in the bottom left to zoom, and click the legend in the top left to view a list of different access points: