What Cincinnati drivers need to know about surge in street construction

Posted at 7:00 AM, Aug 16, 2016

CINCINNATI -- They’re out there.

The barrels and cones: They’re out in full force throughout the city of Cincinnati, as an aggressive and proactive road maintenance plan reached its stride this month.

And residents should expect to see more moving forward.

The Capital Acceleration Plan, the first half of which was approved last year by City Council and Mayor John Cranley, included roughly $70 million for street rehabilitation projects that will span the next six years and nearly a thousand lane-miles throughout Cincinnati’s neighborhoods.

It’s a real, “I would walk 500 miles…” kind of moment for the city.

That means, in 2016 alone, crews will rehab nearly 40 miles across eight neighborhoods:

  • Kennedy Heights
  • Madisonville
  • Avondale
  • North Avondale
  • Corryville
  • Evanston
  • Northside
  • Pleasant Ridge

This, combined with road projects funded through other budget programs, means more than 120 miles of roadway lanes will be rehabbed this year.

The CAP also provides nearly $40 million to replace the city’s aging vehicle fleet over the next decade, a huge boost from previous fleet-replacement budget allowances: This year alone, this means more than doubling the average city spending on fleet replacement and repairs and 70 new vehicles, including 53 new police cruisers.

As for street repairs, Department of Transportation and Engineering Director Michael Moore said that, while the size and scope of the plan’s investment might be a big move for the city, the type of repair work itself is pretty typical -- with one exception: preventative maintenance.

According to Moore and his team, what makes the CAP stand out from previous road repair plans is its emphasis on making sure that roads in good condition stay that way, as opposed to repair and rehabilitation. For every dollar spent on preventative maintenance, planners estimated between $6-14 is saved on repair costs. But Moore said, until now, the city averaged around $500,000 for preventative maintenance each year. Now, the CAP calls for more than $3 million annually.

Moore called the preventative work "very important." For the 37 lane miles being repaired this year, crews are making preventative improvements to 150 lane miles throughout 18 neighborhoods. And, in line with Moore’s point about cost savings, the preventative work only makes up about 40 percent of the CAP funding for these projects all told.

"The old adage, 'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' applies to the health of our roads as well as our personal well-being," Moore said, adding that the Ohio Department of Transportation estimates preventative projects like this usually extend the useful life of a paved road by upwards of five years or more.

Conspicuously absent from the road rehab plan, though, is mention of upgrades to the city streets’ bicycle infrastructure.

The Cincinnati Bicycle Transportation Plan, passed by City Council in 2010, is a 15-year, three-phase comprehensive plan for building out a network of on- and off-street bicycle paths throughout the city. When it comes to the cost of striping new bike lanes or adding shared lane markings, the plan identifies two ways those costs could be significantly reduced, mentioning specifically “coordination with routine street rehabilitation projects.” Such coordination, planners estimate, could mean a 75-percent reduction in the cost of installation.

"The city administration will be opportunistic and take advantage of every occasion where bicycle facilities can be included with street rehabilitation projects," the plan states.

But some wonder if the CAP achieves this goal or if it falls short. Frank Henson, president of Queen City Bike, said he's wondering if more can be done to make sure street rehab projects are aligning street projects' goals with those outlined in the bike plan.

"It doesn't seem like we've done a great job of coordinating street rehab with the bike plan lately," Henson said. "Hopefully we will do better in the future."

Moore attributed the absence of bicycle upgrades within these projects to limited resources going toward other bicycle projects, specifically several off-road trails: Westwood, Wasson Way, Mill Creek and Ohio River Trail West.

"Resurfacing a street is often one of the primary costs involved in implementing bicycle enhancements. So the work being done now with CAP certainly lays the groundwork for future opportunities," Moore said. 

What drivers need to know:

> The majority of the work is being done in residential areas around the city.

> Most closures last about 24 hours, while remaining open to through traffic while crews are on site.

> Residents should receive notifications by mail of any upcoming work being done in their area several weeks ahead of time.

> Parking restrictions can be posted as shortly as 24 hours in advance.

> Much of the work for this year will wrap up around the end of August, with a few projects going into October or November.