City and county leaders on Tuesday announced a plan to cover the cost of replacing the Western Hills viaduct, a crumbling — literally — span that supports the traffic of 55,000 drivers each day. They’ll vote to make it official next week.
Cincinnati and Hamilton County spent over a decade attempting to fund a fix for the bridge, which has in recent years begun to crack and shed chunks of concrete from its upper deck. The plan announced Tuesday will draw the largest share of its budget — $205 million of it — from tax revenue created by Issue 7, a voter-passed tax levy in Hamilton County.
"We always say the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” said Hamilton County Commission president Stephanie Summerow Dumas. “So for years and years and years we've been demanding and requesting for the money necessary for this project. We know this project will not only improve transportation but improve our economic development for the entire region."
An additional $125 million has been set aside by the city and county, and $8.2 million will be allocated from SORTA for the next 25 years.
"Opening up more opportunities for every citizen," said Kreg Keesee, chairman of SORTA's board. "Offering greater connectivity to jobs, healthcare and education."
The replacement bridge will have four lanes of traffic in each direction, plus a multi-use path on the south side and a sidewalk on the north. Officials said it will be built next to the existing bridge, so the Viaduct can remain open during construction.
It's a much-needed fix that will greatly impact neighborhoods on both sides of the viaduct. Residents like Ron Ramer, who used to live in South Fairmount, have seen the bridge degrade over the years firsthand.
"Man, it's really scary," said Ramer. "It's decomposing. it's returning to nature. It's returning to it's original roots."
He said there's a real reluctance from people to drive across it, particularly after netting had to be put up on the lower level to catch concrete pieces crumbling off the structure.
Despite occasional stonefalls, city officials said it’s safe to continue using the viaduct in the meantime and inspections are done twice a year to make sure that's still the case.
Construction could start as early as 2022 and finish around 2026.