Major construction bringing big changes to I-71 at Lytle Tunnel

Posted at 10:15 PM, Jul 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-13 22:16:14-04

CINCINNATI -- Brian Ruschman is on the road a lot, visiting clients and building new business for C-Forward, the Covington-based tech company where he is a vice president.

But, he said, there’s one stretch of Tri-State road he’s learned to avoid lately: Interstate 71 near Downtown’s Lytle Tunnel — specifically, a bridge that spans three different intersecting thoroughfares below as the roadway approaches the tunnel from the north.

“It’s really treacherous,” he said. “There’s people close to you on both sides. It’s not safe.”

That’s why state transportation officials are readying to begin a major construction project at the site, where they said pieces of the bridge’s deck have begun deteriorating, creating rough road conditions. The project is part of a two-year, $30 million overhaul of the tunnel and surrounding roadways.

“We’ve been patching, and the patches are what’s holding,” said Brian Cunningham, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation, but more needs to be done.

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“We really had to get out there and get it fixed,” he said.

It’s a fix that Cunningham said will come with a $10 million price tag, just for the southbound lanes, as well as some rerouting of the traffic lanes that carry as many as 100,000 vehicles over the stretch per day.

“We’ll be moving the southbound lanes onto the northbound lanes just south of I-471,” Cunningham said. “That traffic will then go back into the southbound lanes just north of the Lytle Tunnel.”

The project will also require closing I-71 southbound’s Third Street exit, effectively closing off what was direct access between the interstate and The Banks. The Second Street on-ramp closed earlier this year, as crews began another major project in upgrading the northbound half of the tunnel.

An on-ramp at Seventh Street and an off-ramp at Gilbert Avenue provide alternative access to Downtown.

Cunningham acknowledged the challenges involved in projects of this size at such high traffic areas, and said if he had just one request from drivers: patience.

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“With the volume of traffic that we have going through that area, we’re really going to encourage people to be patient,” he said, “because the work needs to be done, and there’s nothing we can do about that other than get out there and get it finished.”

Still, Ruschman held on to a bit of skepticism when he heard the plan.

“Wow,” he reacted to the lane adjustments required to complete the project. “That is — that’s going to be questionable, I think. I think I’m going to have to go Downtown and take another bridge across to get back to Kentucky.”

Both the John A. Roebling Bridge and the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge provide access from Downtown and The Banks to Covington.

Still, Cunningham remained confident his office is making progress on the region’s litany of infrastructure needs.

“Next year we will have a rebuilt southbound just north of the Lytle Tunnel, rebuilt northbound just north of the Lytle Tunnel, and then from that point all the way to the Norwood Lateral will be repaved,” he said, not even mentioning the massive Mill Creek Expressway project, overhauling the stretch of Interstate 75 just a few miles away.