Viaduct replacement is still more than a decade away, engineers say

CINCINNATI -- Despite the Western Hills Viaduct's advanced age and increasingly apparent structural decay, the 55,000 people who drive over it every day won't see a replacement until at least 2029. 

Hamilton County engineers and residents outlined the viaduct's issues and possible solutions Tuesday in the first meeting of the Western Hills Viaduct Coalition, a group dedicated to acting as "a unified voice" to push for greater transparency and urgency surrounding the multimillion-dollar replacement project. 

The longer it's postponed, county engineer Tim Hubbard said, the more it will ultimately cost.

"As time passes, the structure deteriorates," he said. "Time has a cost."

"We are not working against the city and county," coalition member Henry Frondorf added. "We are working with them to get state and federal funding."

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Replacing the 85-year-old viaduct, which connects Downtown, Uptown and the West Side of Cincinnati, would cost an estimated $330 million. Mayor John Cranley pledged about 10 percent of that in December 2017, and Hamilton County commissioner Todd Fortune hopes a recently approved car registration fee hike will generate between $20-30 million more. 

That still leaves more than $260 million in limbo. Bill Shefcik, Cincinnati's principal structural engineer, said state and federal dollars could fill that funding canyon, but he had yet to hear back about grants for which the city applied in fall 2017. 

According to Shefcik, the earliest date at which construction could start is 2020, and it should come to an end in fall 2029. The replacement viaduct will be slightly south of the original, meaning minimal closures for the first during construction.

Catherine Ross, a Westwood resident and coalition member, said she had been too worried about the possibility of falling concrete to drive on the lower deck of the viaduct for months.

"I am worried about the safety of the viaduct and getting this project done as quickly as possible," she said.

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