BY TANYA ALBERT
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The dream of people moving from buses to commuter or light rail in one location on Cincinnati's riverfront took a big step toward reality Tuesday -- an $11.5 million step.
Ohio's Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) announced the state will pay for most of the $18 million two-level transit center. The state will also pay $118.6 million toward construction on six other major transportation projects scheduled for Southwest Ohio over the next four years.
Money to help pay for planning and designing proposed light rail in the Interstate 71 corridor also was approved.
"We're seeing an unfolding of a vision," said Jim Duane, executive director of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI). "The funding brings it closer to reality."
Most projects the state Tuesday agreed to help pay for will help alleviate traffic jams in the city's eastern and northern suburbs, which are experiencing tremendous growth:
With Tuesday's announcement, all the money is in place for the downtown Intermodal Transit Center. Another $4 million for it is federal money, part of a $203 billion transportation bill Congress approved in May. The city of Cincinnati has dedicated the other $2.5 million for a new Second Street as part of the reconstruction of Fort Washington Way.
- Interstate 275 in Clermont and Hamilton counties will get an extra lane in each direction between U.S. 50 and Five Mile Road.
- I-275 will get a new interchange at the Clough Pike overpass between Ohio 125 and Ohio 32.
Stonelick Olive Branch Road at Ohio 32 will be upgraded to an interchange.
- Reed Hartman Highway will become three lanes in each direction between Procter & Gamble Co.'s southern entrance and I-275. The I-275 on-off ramps for Reed Hartman Highway will be widened.
- Interstate 75 will get a new lane in each direction from the Kemper Road overpass to just north of Cincinnati Dayton Road.
- Interchange ramps at U.S. 50 and I-275 in Clermont County will be completed.
The new Second Street construction should start next summer and be done in 2000. Construction crews will raise the street to create two levels and build a plaza just outside the future National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, near the Roebling Suspension Bridge.
Metro buses and possibly commuter rail could run on the lower level of the new Second Street. Cars and possibly light rail will run on top. (Commuter and light rail are being explored for downtown and Greater Cincinnati, but no plans are concrete.) Escalators and stairs would make it easy for people to get to and from the different forms of transportation.
"It demonstrates that when there's a good idea, money can be found to make it happen," said Cincinnati City Manager John Shirey.
Raising the new Second Street and building a plaza while Fort Washington Way and the riverfront are under construction makes the project cheaper and more feasible than if it were proposed after that construction, said Metro General Manager Paul Jablonski,
who has been working on the project for about two years.
"It's a great decision made at the right time for the right reasons," he said. "It's a lot of foresight."
The other six projects are scheduled to start in the next four years.
New interchanges will help alleviate traffic jams and improve safety on major routes such as Ohio 32, where a half-mile stretch between Old 74 and Elick Road averages 40 accidents annually, Clermont County Engineer Carl G. Hartman said.
The projects also anticipate growth and are part of OKI's 20-year transportation plan.
"It's great to be proactive," Mr. Hartman said. "When you're reactive and miss a window of opportunity, the needs don't get met as well, and the cost escalates."
The Greater Cincinnati projects announced Tuesday were among 64 construction projects the state's Transportation Review Advisory Council decided it would fund with $1.6 billion between 2000 and 2003.
TRAC members decide which projects get money using a formula that scores factors such as traffic accident rates, congestion and average daily traffic. Economic development is also considered. Four projects, including widening U.S. 50 between Fairbanks and Mount Echo roads and widening Ohio 22 between I-275 and the Warren County line, were not approved for state funding.
But most requests in the Cincinnati area got money.
In addition to the seven projects that will start construction in the next four years, a light-rail study and study for a Trenton bypass near the Miller Brewery Co. in Butler County were approved for design and development funding.
The TRAC process, created last year, replaced a funding process that was politically driven. The new system has been good for Southwest Ohio, said Mr. Duane of OKI.
"In the past, (Cincinnati) didn't compete effectively with Cleveland," Mr. Duane said. "I'm pleased."