CINCINNATI -- After years of study, City Manager Harry Black says Cincinnati may not need a new $44 million bridge after all.
Engineers envisioned the Elmore Street bridge would link South Cumminsville and Clifton by traveling over Interstate 75 to Central Parkway near Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. It would have replaced an Interstate 74 exit to Central Parkway, the neighborhoods' only connection which closed as part of the massive Mill Creek Expressway Project overhaul still underway.
But on Thursday, Black told Mayor John Cranley and City Council traffic seems to be moving just fine without a new bridge. Planners credit the new $91 million Hopple Street interchange, along with changes to the street grid in Northside and the Beekman Street interchange with I-74. Black said design plans would be saved in case the bridge is needed in the future.
O'dell Owens, while he was president of Cincinnati State, aggressively lobbied to keep direct access from I-74, which sits directly at the end of the now-closed Central Parkway ramp. Mayor John Cranley also supported it, saying community colleges are a pathway to the middle class. Both he and Owens argued eliminating the exit and forcing students to travel several minutes south to the new Hopple Street interchange would be an inconvenience that could cause some to drop out.
The connector bridge would have had a travel lane in either direction, plus sidewalks and a bike path. The idea drew support from a major nonprofit community development group, the Uptown Consortium, which works to stimulate economic development in the Avondale, Clifton, Corryville, Clifton Heights, Fairview, University Heights and Mount Auburn neighborhoods. Multiple Clifton-area business owners, both U.S. senators from Ohio, as well as U.S. Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, expressed support for the project, too.
A similar bridge had been discussed in the planning phases of the major I-75 overhaul several years ago; however, it was never pursued. Cincinnati State readily admits it dropped the ball on advocating for the bridge back then.
Some council members balked at the bridge's $44 million price tag -- especially after the city missed out on grant money from U.S. Department of Transportation. In 2015, the city requested $33 million from the federal TIGER program and pledged to put up more than $8 million in local money; but, the Elmore Street bridge wasn't included in a list of 39 projects that year.
Councilman Chris Seelbach argued the city should instead focus on fixing the crumbling Western Hills Viaduct, a major link between the city's West Side and Uptown.
Transportation planners estimated roughly 10,000 trips would be made across the Elmore Street bridge daily, with 75 percent of those attributable to Cincinnati State. ODOT said the new Hopple and Mitchell interchanges were designed to accommodate traffic that would otherwise have used the Central Parkway ramps. However, the Elmore bridge could serve as an alternate route in the event of an I-75 closure, according to ODOT planners.
A statement from Cincinnati State says the college will continue working on access issues for its students:
Cincinnati State greatly appreciates all efforts made to preserve this key access route to and from the West Side. It would have benefitted thousands of people daily who travel not only to our Clifton Campus, but also to other Uptown destinations including UC, multiple hospitals, the Cincinnati Zoo, and businesses in Clifton, Northside and South Cumminsville. As a commuter college providing education for jobs that are critical to our local and state economy, Cincinnati State will continue seeking ways to improve access to and from our campus for students and employees commuting by car or bus. Independent studies have clearly shown that such improvements will have a significant return on investment for our entire community.
WCPO has reached out to the mayor's office for comment on whether he continues to believe a new bridge is necessary.
This story contains prior reporting by WCPO.com/WCPO Insider's Pat LaFleur.