Western Hills Viaduct replacement fully funded with $127 million grant
Prep work is underway, and construction on the viaduct replacement is expected to begin in 2025.
CINCINNATI (WXIX) - The project to replace the Western Hills Viaduct is now fully funded thanks to a $127 million federal grant, according to the Cincinnati Department of Transportation and Engineering.
The money comes from the US Department of Transportation’s INFRA grant program, which was reauthorized with increased funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed earlier this year.
“This project is going to change the face of our city for a generation,” Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval said Friday. “Reconnecting our neighborhoods to the jobs and everyday destinations they depend on is essential to our growth as a city that works for everyone.”
In addition to the INFRA grant, City and County officials have secured $87 million from federal grants administered by the Ohio Department of Transportation.
The City has allocated $33 million from a bond issue, and the County has committed $33 million in license plate fees.
An additional $205 million is available from a SORTA grant payable in installments of $8.2 million over 25 years beginning in 2022.
“Thanks to the INFRA award of $127 million, construction of the new bridge is fully funded based on the current estimate of $398 million,” said Bill Shefcik, the City’s project manager. “We may need to pursue additional funding for the demolition of the existing viaduct due to inflation.”
To that end, the City has also applied for two other federal grants from USDOT: $196 million from the mega infrastructure program and $175 from the bridge infrastructure program. Both programs were created by the BIP.
“This catalytic investment will advance the replacement of the Western Hills Viaduct project and will create a safer connection to the western side of the Mill Creek for over 55,000 drivers,” said Hamilton County Engineer Eric Beck. “This is a beautiful example of how government is supposed to work; the City, County, State and our federal government officials from all sides of the aisle, as well as the voters, came together to push this project forward.”
A City spokesperson calls the completion of the viaduct replacement “critical” to the Brent Spence corridor. The spokesperson says the design of the two projects is behind coordinated.
The viaduct, a double-decker bridge supported by open-spandrel arches, is now 90 years old, having been built in 1932 as part of the Union Terminal project. It’s rated a 5 out of 10, considered “poor,” according ODOT standards.
City officials say the viaduct is safe to use but assess it to be at the end of its useful life due to worsening structural deterioration. Viaduct traffic is currently subject to a weight limit, and nets are installed beneath the lower deck of the bridge to catch loose concrete.
The City initially explored a rehab project that wouldn’t have required the construction of a new bridge, but such a project would have closed the existing viaduct for several years, which the City deemed unreasonable. Moreover, any rehab project would have faced significant difficulties staging in the CSX rail yard below.
Lastly, according to City officials, a rehabbed bridge wouldn’t have offered the sort of improvements demanded by users, including wider lanes and a dedicated, protected pedestrian/bike path.
The current design proposes a single-deck “extradosed” bridge supported by two pairs of cable-stayed towers. It will include a 14-ft. wide protected multi-use path for pedestrians and bicyclists on the south side and an 8-ft. wide sidewalk on the north side.
The new bridge will reside 50 feet south of the existing viaduct, which will remain in place and continue to carry traffic until its replacement is finished.
“This is an exciting step toward creating connectivity and access that will benefit all Cincinnatians, especially Black and Brown communities that were disproportionately affected during the original construction,” City Manager Sheryl Long said.
Final designs and engineering plans, which include reconfiguring the Interstate 75 interchange, must still be completed and approved by ODOT.
Site prep work began in March with the demolition of several buildings in the footprint of the new bridge. Crews are also working to relocate the Duke Energy substation and transmission line as well as railroad tracks and other utilities, according to the City spokesperson.
Construction on the new bridge is expected to begin by 2025. The full project, which includes removal of the existing viaduct, is expected to be complete by 2030.
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