City to consider $2 million netting beneath Western Hills Viaduct

City council to consider safety netting for Western Hills Viaduct

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - The city’s budget and finance committee is considering a proposal to spend $2 million to put up safety netting under the Western Hills Viaduct.

The netting, according to the motion, is intended to protect cars and people from damage or injury from concrete chunks falling off the 88-year-old structure.

“Otherwise we’re going to continue to, you know, duck for the concrete,” Council Member David Mann said. “We can’t have that.”

Mann acknowledges the sum might seem like a lot of money for netting.

“But $2 million to protect human life, it’s cheap,” he said.

The long-term goal, according to Mann, remains replacement.

“The structure is safe,” he explained, “but it is not in good condition. It’s old.”

The viaduct was built in 1932 as part of the same project that created Union Terminal.

At 3,500 feet long, the viaduct is twice as long as any of the region’s Ohio River bridges.

Nearly 50,000 drivers use the viaduct daily, according to the city.

Its last major rehab came in 1977. Today, according to ODOT, it is in ‘poor’ condition.

Mann compares the magnitude of the viaduct’s replacement project to building Cross County Highway.

“I mean, it’s huge,” he said.

A replacement is estimated to cost around $320 million. The city says it has raised $114 million so far, including $33 million from Hamilton County, $33 million in capital funds from the city, $18 million in federal money for design and property acquisition and various amounts from state transportation grants.

“The city staff and the county staff have been very aggressive about trying to, you know, not leave any stone unturned,” Mann explained.

Not every stone has turned up, though.

In 2019, the city missed out on both an INFRA grant and a BUILD grant from USDOT. Meanwhile, its request of $190 million in 2019 TRAC project funds from the state netted just $15 million.

The city also applied for a grant from the state’s Local Major Bridge Program in October. Those project awards have not yet been announced.

Another possible source of funding is the SORTA sales tax levy, which will be on the ballot in March 2020. If it passes, the levy will raise money for infrastructure projects, possibly including the Western Hills Viaduct.

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