Officials celebrate completion of MLK/I-71 interchange, tout increase in Uptown development

Posted at 4:20 PM, Aug 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-09 06:47:30-04

CINCINNATI -- Officials celebrated Tuesday as crews wrapped up construction on the Interstate 71/Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive interchange overhaul, and touted what they said is increasing development along the corridor.

Opening the final of multiple ramps connecting MLK and I-71 marked the occasion after more than three years and $80 million of work along the corridor. Most prominently, the project included a new bridge spanning the freeway.

The primary driver behind the overhaul was to shorten travel times to the region's only two Level 1 trauma centers, at Cincinnati Children's Hospital and University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

"This project will help to save lives through travel enhancements to the trauma centers," said Ohio Department of Transportation District 8 Deputy Director Tammy Campbell. "That is an improvement that cannot be understated."

MLK Drive is one of the city's major cross-town connectors, linking both Interstates 71 and 75 and connecting Avondale, Walnut Hills, Evanston and Clifton. Generally referred to as Uptown, the area is the city's second biggest job center after Downtown.

READ MORE: Uptown angling to be upstart haven

Mayor John Cranley also spoke at Tuesday's ceremony, pointing to Uptown's role in the city's future.

"Uptown is tomorrow," he said. "The Uptown is where people come to UC, maybe fall in love and stay. Uptown is where residents come to learn how to be doctors stay. Uptown is where the future entrepreneurs get their start, whether it's at Xavier or UC.

"So, if you think about it, we need a healthy Downtown, which we have, and we need a vibrant Uptown, which we're getting."

Among the biggest developments is the $22 million renovation of the former Sears building on Reading Road. It's a building that was originally set for demolition, but is in the process of revival to become UC's new innovation and job training hub.

In July, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health announced a $110 million investment in Uptown, consolidating their offices into a new facility.

Two office towers and a hotel are also in the works at the intersection of MLK and Reading.

In whole, the development is expected to create roughly 7,000 new jobs on investments and developments reaching about $700 million.

But the project didn't come without controversy.

As WCPO has previously reported, of the 89 people that prime contractor Kokosing Construction employs, only four are from the Uptown neighborhoods that surround the interchange.

And black-owned businesses won contracts worth less than $500,000 on the $80 million project. That's roughly half of 1 percent of contract dollars.

Public transit and walkability advocates also said the re-design left something to be desired when it comes to car alternatives.

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

Tom McKee is a reporter with WCPO - 9 On Your Side. Former reporting by WCPO's Lucy May and Bob Driehaus also contributed to this story.