Little bridge causing big stir among East Side residents

Posted at 12:39 PM, Feb 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-03 13:49:42-05

CINCINNATI -- It's a small bridge that's causing a big uproar on Cincinnati's East Side.

The Marburg Avenue Bridge, which connects Hyde Park and Oakley via a three-lane span, is in desperate need for replacement, according to city transportation officials.

It also provides one of the key connections between the two mixed-use neighborhoods -- both cater to businesses, entertainment and residents alike. Some in the area worry the construction will mean nearly a year of traffic headaches and diversions that will disrupt residents' daily lives in the form of backups and increased noise pollution.

The vicinity surrounding the bridge is primarily residential.

During Tuesday's City Council transportation committee meeting, officials with the Department of Transportation and Engineering presented Councilwoman and Committee Chair Amy Murray and committee members with their plan to replace the 86-year-old bridge.

The committee also heard from neighborhood residents who think the city needs to "go back to the drawing board."

'4 out of 9'

Built in 1931, the Marburg Avenue Bridge crosses over decommissioned railroad tracks that formerly conveyed the Norfolk Southern Railroad -- the rail operator that owned the land under the bridge. The city of Cincinnati recently purchased the land as part of the upcoming Wasson Way mixed-use trail project.

The only significant work done on the bridge during its 80-plus year run was when it was widened in the 1960s, DOTE Director Michael Moore told the committee during his presentation Tuesday.

During that presentation, Moore called the bridge "structurally deficient," adding that the bridge is ranked as being in "Poor Condition," according to federal guidelines, which rank bridges on a scale from zero through nine. The existing Marburg Bridge scores a four on that scale. The ratings are part of the Federal Highway Administration's National Bridge Inventory, which defines a rating of four as "Meets minimum tolerable limits to be left in place as is."

Concrete deterioration is one factor contributing to the bridge's NBI rating of 4 out of 9. (Provided/City of Cincinnati)

The bridge's rating is due to "widespread concrete deterioration," Moore said, along with various, ongoing maintenance needs.

Moore also emphasized, though, that the bridge is safe to drive on, for now.

"It needs to be replaced," Moore said Tuesday.

Moore estimates the replacement would take about nine months to complete, aspiring to begin full construction by March 1 and complete the project by Oct. 31.

A bridge too far?

But some in the surrounding neighborhoods worry that the construction -- which Moore said will require a complete closure of the span for as long as six of the projected nine months of work -- will disrupt residents living and businesses operating near the bridge, as well as those who use the bridge to get to and from work.

Carl Uebelacker, former long-time Hyde Park Neighborhood Council Board member, spoke during Tuesday's meeting. He said the impact of a six-month closure would be "huge," citing the some 14,000 vehicles that cross the bridge each day.

"I think the city needs to go back to the drawing board," Uebelacker told the committee.

Uebelacker and others' concerns are expressed most clearly in a letter sent to City Manager Harry Black by HPNC Secretary Norman Lewis -- who also spoke during Tuesday's meeting:

"(C)losure of the road will likely involve rerouting about 14,000 cars per day onto nearby streets not designed to handle the increased traffic, and businesses in Hyde Park East expect to be cut off from the rest of the city."

After initially reviewing the replacement plan last October, the HPNC unanimously passed a motion rejecting the plan, calling for a halt to the project until an alternative plan can be developed.

Here is the proposed detour route:

Primary proposed detour route during construction. (Provided/DOTE)

Opponents of the project fear Wasson Road and Paxton and Erie avenues will struggle to accommodate the diverted vehicles, and also worry that there will be cut-through traffic on the smaller Portsmouth and Victoria avenues, citing congestion that already occurs along those intersections.

Putting all the pieces together

Moore's presentation -- prepared and co-presented by city engineer Brandon Lecrone -- worked to address these concerns.

Their defense of the current construction plan boils down to the number of contingencies this particular project presents: namely, the bridge's close proximity to nearby residences, the railroad tracks, and the grade of the slopes leading down to the ground below the bridge, which employ temporary, wooden shoring panels.

It's this configuration that Moore said limits construction equipment access to the site. This, he said, would make it unsafe to leave the bridge even partially open, as cranes would have to lift concrete slabs and other large components up and over the existing bridge from the side opposite where the new bridge will be constructed:

The only possible access point for construction equipment would mean heavy components would need to be lifted up and over the existing bridge. (Provided/City of Cincinnati)

Moore and his team developed and presented alternative detour options, and suggested detour mitigation strategies, as well, including a temporary closure of Victoria Lane at Erie Avenue or converting it to a one-way connector.

Moore said his engineers are doing everything they can to avoid using Portsmouth and Victoria avenues as cut-throughs, including polling residents on those streets requesting opinion on street closure options.

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