City, county unveil proposed design for new, single-deck Western Hills Viaduct

No more falling concrete
Posted at 11:11 AM, Oct 22, 2020

CINCINNATI — West Side commuters and local leaders have imagined for years what a new Western Hills Viaduct might look like. Now, they have at least one concrete idea of how it will turn out.

City Manager Paula Boggs Muething issued a memo Wednesday showcasing the recommended design for the nearly 90-year-old bridge.

"The proposed bridge will be built on a new alignment immediately to the south of the existing viaduct and will include two 150-foot towers supporting the main span, with a series of cables that fan out at an angle from both sides of the towers," Boggs Muething wrote.

A rendering shows a new bridge with walking and biking infrastructure. The map shows where the new bridge -- highlighted in yellow -- would sit directly to the south of the existing viaduct.

The rendering indicates that, unlike the existing viaduct, the new bridge will carry vehicles on a single level and will feature a protected path for people walking and biking.

The new bridge will cost roughly $335 million to build, with construction beginning as early as 2022, Boggs Muething wrote. The city and the county have committed a combined $66 million toward the project, and federal and state grants have brought in another $59 million.

Although the city and the county will continue to "aggressively pursue the additional funding needed," Boggs Muething wrote, the passage of Issue 7 earlier this year "is expected to provide some funding, which will be requested as soon as it is available."

Hamilton County voters in April opted to increase the sales tax by 0.8%, in order to fund Cincinnati Metro bus improvements and service expansions as well as transit-adjacent road and bridge improvements. The Western Hills Viaduct would likely qualify for some of those latter funds. Supporters of the measure estimated the levy would collect roughly $25-30 million in funding for road and bridge improvements alone.

Leading up to the April vote, Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman introduced a resolution committing City Council to making the Western Hills Viaduct the first in line for that funding. The resolution is limited in its weight, though: The final decisions on which infrastructure improvements get funding rest with the Hamilton County Integrating Committee, an appointed board comprised of city, township and county officials.

The viaduct connects Queensgate and CUF on its eastern foot with South Fairmount to the west. It carries thousands of commuters in and out of the urban core on a daily basis but has begun deteriorating over the decades. The city began studying what it would take to build a new bridge in 2010. The bridge currently holds a score of 4 out of 9 according to state bridge safety guidelines, earning it the designation of "poor."

In recent years, concrete chunks occasionally have fallen from the upper deck onto cars below driving across the lower deck. This prompted the city to install netting across some portions of the ceiling to catch any concrete that might fall. City leaders in January proposed installing netting across the entire ceiling, but a report issued in August found that might cause more harm than good.

The city and the county have planned a public hearing for the week of Nov. 16 to share the proposed design and gather feedback from residents and business owners.