Picture yourself hopping on a streetcar in Price Hill or Westwood and cruising downtown for lunch.
It probably won’t happen anytime soon. But a group of West Side residents was determined to put just that image in the heads of city council’s transportation committee as it met yesterday to consider what will be done with the city’s aging Western Hills Viaduct.
About 25 people showed up to the meeting to advocate for expanded transit options as planning for the bridge goes forward.
"It's about the future of our city and connecting one another,” said John Eby, a resident of Westwood, during Wednesday’s meeting. “Think of this as the economic development tool that will help connect Price Hill and Westwood to downtown."
Even without the added transit considerations, the project is daunting. The half-mile long bridge is 82 years old and was last rehabbed in 1977. So it’s getting a little crumbly.
Though it’s structurally sound for now, engineers say it will need to be completely rehabbed or replaced in the next 10 years. A study released last week found the bridge’s condition to be among of the worst in the state.
The viaduct is owned by Hamilton County, which pays Cincinnati to do upkeep.
City engineers are leaning toward replacement, though that’s going to be expensive. Estimated costs come in around $240 million for a new bridge, which would have two decks and be placed just south of the current one. So far, the city’s dedicated less than $6 million for the project.
But this moment, as the city mulls what to do about the bridge, is the perfect time to look at new transit options, advocates say.
Adding dedicated lanes for light rail would cost $24 million a lane, engineers estimate. But designing the bridge with extra structural integrity for streetcar rails, which don’t require extra lanes, could be a cheaper option, said city engineer Richard Szekeresh.
It wouldn’t be the first time a streetcar has made the trip over the Mill Creek and train yards spanned by the viaduct. In the 1950s, streetcars ran along the bridge’s lower deck.
But don’t start making plans to get out of downtown and hit up your favorite Westside chili parlor for lunch just yet. City officials say they’re in the opening stages of the project. Engineers hope to have designs drawn up by the end of the year, but it will be six to eight years before construction starts, according to city transportation manager Michael Moore. Before that is the long road to secure state funding and make sure the necessary local funds are in place.
Advocates say the project may be the last chance to leave the door open for future transit options like light rail or the streetcar. A new Eighth Street viaduct was just completed, and crews are wrapping up work on the Sixth Street bridge as well. Neither will carry rail into the West Side, which is home to about 20 percent of the city.