This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that highlight stories from other cities and regions that have faced challenges comparable to that of the Syracuse region and the I-81 corridor.  To read other blog posts in the series, click here.

The Fort Washington Way is the section of I-71 that passes between downtown Cincinnati and the Ohio River waterfront. In the 1990s, the existing highway provided two through lanes in each direction, with numerous auxiliary lanes and ramps. The through lanes were depressed, and there were several existing overpasses. Traffic volumes exceeded capacity, and the numerous ramps and weaving maneuvers required made it both unsafe and congested for travelers. In addition, the wide right-of-way occupied by the highway and the access ramps created a major barrier between the waterfront and downtown Cincinnati.

The project was initiated in 1995 as a Major Investment Study (MIS) by the Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana Council of Governments (OKI), the region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). A highly collaborative process explored 25 different alternatives, which were evaluated for their effects on pedestrian access, land use, riverfront redevelopment opportunities, and local street network access, in addition to conventional highway performance measures. Five alternatives were selected for further study, and eventually the final design was developed through a cooperative effort between the City of Cincinnati, OKI, ODOT and other stakeholders.

The improvements included widening the highway to four through lanes in each direction and the elimination of several exits and entrances to simplify and improve traffic flow. The total right-of-way width was substantially reduced by defining the highway edge using vertical retaining walls rather than sloped embankments. The additional space was reclaimed as a riverfront park, with new venues for the city’s professional sports teams. There are now five streets crossing the highway, which have broad sidewalks and landscaping. These provide a significantly improved pedestrian environment and safe access to the riverfront park. The street connections also help restore connectivity between the riverfront park and the downtown street network, which has improved traffic congestion after sports events.

This project is considered highly successful, in terms of the collaborative process, the relatively streamlined schedule from start to finish, and the benefits that the project has brought to the city.

To read more about how Cincinnati reconfigured its depressed highway and how it compares with The I-81 Challenge process, check out a full version of the Case Study Report.

Photo courtesy of Joe Dunckly via Flickr Creative Commons

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