Western Hills Viaduct prompts new council members to tell city, 'go above and beyond'

CINCINNATI -- Two of City Council's newest members called on the city administration Tuesday to be bold when planning for a new Western Hills Viaduct.

"This is an opportunity to be truly visionary," said rookie council member, Tamaya Dennard, during Tuesday's Major Projects and Smart Government Committee meeting. It was the committee's first meeting.

The meeting also offered Dennard and committee chair, Greg Landsman -- also new to council -- their first chance to discuss the aging bridge in an official capacity.

"We want other cities to look at us and say, 'They're doing something different,'" Landsman said during the meeting. "The Western Hills Viaduct can be that."

Dennard and Landsman's remarks came following questions from Council member Chris Seelbach, directed at Department of Transportation and Engineering Director Michael Moore.

Seelbach was particularly interested in seeing plans for making the new bridge multi-modal -- that is, accommodating pedestrians, cyclists and rail transit in addition to auto traffic.

Throughout his presentation, Moore made clear just how complicated getting this new bridge built will be.

"This is like throwing this bridge through the eye of a needle," he said.

That's because building a new Western Hills Viaduct involves cooperation between different governmental agencies and relying on prospective future funding, which is never a guarantee.

Acquiring the right-of-way also poses a challenge, and not just for transportation department officials. Seelbach also took issue with the proposed design requiring the demolition of two standing historic buildings in the vicinity.

Another question from Dennard: How will this impact the West Side neighborhoods adjacent to the construction. She mentioned Camp Washington, South Cumminsville, CUF and Clifton, specifically.

How to pay for the new bridge remains a contentious issue -- not surprisingly with a council that inherited a commitment to finding $33 million to put toward the Western Hills Viaduct.

One solution was approved during Monday's hearing with the Budget and Finance Committee, where committee members voted to advance a measure that would raise property taxes by $1 per every $1,000 in a property's value.

Notably absent from Tuesday's viaduct discussion were former transportation committee chair Amy Murray and former council member Kevin Flynn, a West Sider from Mount Airy who was outspoken about the bridge during his term. Both were members of the former Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee, which led the discussion of the viaduct during the previous term of council.

The discussion culminated in Landsman asking Moore and his department to "go above and beyond" during the planning process for the 10-year infrastructure project.

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

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