Ohio, Kentucky officials: Bridge Forward plan would add more than $100 million to Brent Spence project – The Business Journals

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A citizen group’s proposal to reduce the footprint of Interstate 75 as it approaches the Brent Spence Bridge and its planned companion bridge would add between $100 million and $140 million to the project’s cost, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.
ODOT’s analysis of the Bridge Forward concept also concludes it would add more than 23 acres of land back to the urban core, add maintenance costs to the city because of a re-established street grid connecting downtown and Queensgate and require the construction of tall overpasses.
Bridge Forward pledged to persist in pursuing its vision for a revised project, which includes trenching the approach to the existing bridge and planned companion bridge, so that a Fort Washington Way-style platform can be built over the highway, as well as adding back developable land.
The Brent Spence Bridge project, which would add 8 miles of highway widening between the Western Hills Viaduct and Dixie Highway in Fort Mitchell, is estimated to cost $3.6 billion, up from $2.8 billion in 2022. Adding $100 million to $140 million to the project would increase the cost by 2.8% to 3.9%.
An economic development study performed for Bridge Forward by urban planning consultant Karp Strategies, estimates if the city was able to reclaim 25 acres and build a $1.5 billion mixed-use project on that land, it would result in a $2.4 billion annual economic impact. The one-time construction economic impact would be $3.2 billion.
ODOT’s response on behalf of the bi-state management team, which includes the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, is based on a June 26 submittal by Bridge Forward and an engineer hired to refine its plans.
ODOT’s analysis of the plan also identified what it calls “geometric issues,” stemming from stacking the interchange between U.S. 50 and the interstates and placing U.S. 50 at the bottom in a tunnel. As a result, Seventh and Eighth streets under the new street grid are 50 feet at the west side and 30 feet at the east side above the existing ground, placing them as high as adjoining buildings.
It also creates a steep crossing for Seventh Street over Interstate 75 that is 40 feet higher than the existing crossing, resulting in a 9.5% grade coming up from Gest Street and a 6.5% grade coming up from Central Avenue.
The new, local, northbound and southbound streets that would allow the footprint to be reduced are 30 feet to 40 feet higher than the existing ground, creating “a potential physical and visual barrier between downtown and the Queensgate neighborhood.” ODOT says such elevation differences are not reflected in Bridge Forward’s renderings.
The concept also will have an effect on about 4 acres south of Second Street near the Cincinnati Bengals practice facility and game day parking.
“None of the locations listed above meet the project design criteria set during the performance-based design process and could result in operational and safety issues,” according to the memo.
“Correcting the geometry at these locations would require creating more distance between the constraint points and/or less elevation change by revising the levels of the various roadway elements. In both cases, that would require a larger footprint and would impact the additional contiguous developable acreage made available in the Bridge Forward concept.”
ODOT also analyzed how much land would be reclaimed under the concept and concluded it is 23.7 acres, not 30 acres, as Bridge Forward has projected. ODOT’s current, overall plan returns nearly 13 acres.
Drilling down into what will be the most desirable and developable land west of Central Avenue and east of I-75 between Third and Sixth streets, ODOT has projected it will return 9.5 acres, while Bridge Forward will return about 15 acres.
The Bridge Forward concept also “requires traffic to pass through additional signals to access (the) existing downtown area,” the memo said.
As for coming up with a precise cost estimate, “a detailed analysis would be required,” according to the memo. ODOT pledged to share the concept with the contractors hired to design and build the project.
Former Cincinnati mayors John Cranley and Mark Mallory signed on to the Bridge Forward proposal, which is spearheaded by accountant Brian Boland. Fischer Homes Chairman Greg Fischer also is a leading supporter.
Cranley, who is the group’s lobbyist, urged Cincinnati City Council and Hamilton County commissioners to hold a new round of votes making it clear to the states they favor the plan.
“I took the report as a clear blueprint how the local community can embrace this vision,” Cranley said. “It would be silly to squander an incredible opportunity like this for a 3% cost increase.”
Cranley suggested several sources could be tapped to cover the additional money needed – the project’s contingency fund, the Hamilton County transportation sales tax and potentially asking for additional federal money.
President Joe Biden and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg have said they want the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which is funding $1.6 billion of the project, to reconnect communities split open by the construction of the interstate highway system.
“The original construction of I-75 ripped through the West End and we are still dealing with the damage that was done,” Mallory said. “This is a chance to create new opportunities for one of Cincinnati’s most historic neighborhoods. Finding the money to pay for it should be a priority.”
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