Sunday, August 06, 2000

FWW: New pattern simplifies traffic flow

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Exits are gone, eliminated for safety's sake. New ones will spring up, along with strange signs. A one-way street is reversing direction. And a missed off-ramp will mean a long ride.

        But even with all the changes coming for drivers with the $314 million redesign of Fort Washington Way, city traffic officials pledge that the new highway will make it easier to get around downtown.

The WAY of the future
Getting Around: a map
Opening dates
Easier to drive
Safety: Issues remain
How it got it's name
Timeline of the renovation
Money: where it came from, where it went
        “It might not look like it when you look at the map, but the whole thing is really simplified,” says city transportation director John Deatrick. “It's predictable ... and that's the key for easy and safe driving.”

        He says that the old highway got an “F” from federal inspectors not only for safety, but for congestion and traffic flow. He expects a grade of at least “A-minus” initially, and a “C” level of service as late as 2020.

        Laren Tappel, who drives into downtown daily from Montgomery, thought Cincinnati was already pretty easy to navigate, and she can't wait for the improvements to open.

        “I was just in Buffalo, and it takes hours to get to a concert there,” says Ms. Tappel along Fourth Street, as jackhammers blast away at a new Third Street. “Here, you pop in and out. And the new roads are going to make it so much nicer.”

        Here's what Ms. Tappel and others can expect when major portions of the highway open:

        • Two lanes in each direction of the main I-71/U.S. 50 trench. This stretch of highway runs from the split at the Ohio end of the Brent Spence Bridge through the Lytle Tunnel. Eventually, the highway will include four lanes each way.

        Unlike the previous design, which featured exits throughout, the only access to the city will be at either end. Under the old configuration, there were 14 ways on and off between the bridge and the tunnel. The new configuration has 11.

        “A perfect example of the old way was the old exit off the highway onto Pete Rose Way,” Mr. Deatrick says. “It was convenient for anyone parking down there, but because it was such a sharp turn, it could back up all the way onto the highway and create not only a delay but a hazard.”

        • Exits onto a reconfigured Third Street and a new Second Street at either end of the highway, along with improved connections to I-71/75 south on the west end and Columbia Parkway and I-471 on the east end.

        These are the keys to the design — planners are counting on new Second and Third streets to handle the local traffic that used to funnel down the old Fort Washington Way.

        Anyone wanting to access southern downtown from I-71/75 north should exit onto Second Street, which will run west to east. This street will connect with any major northbound surface street such as Elm or Vine streets, thanks to a series of new bridges spanning the trench.

        And anyone wanting to make the same access from I-71 south should exit onto Third Street, which switches direction and will run east to west. Third Street also will connect with the north-south streets.

        Those leaving downtown can reverse the way they came in, heading south on streets such as Plum, Race and Walnut. Third will connect with I-71/75 south on the west end of downtown, and Second will connect with I-71 north, Columbia Parkway headed east and I-471.

        But if someone looking to get into downtown misses either the Second or Third Street exits, they'll be forced to drive the length of the trench before they can get off.

        Mr. Deatrick says the weaving of the old days is old news. Someone coming from Northern Kentucky wanting to stay on I-71 north, for example, won't have to switch lanes to make the proper exit, he says.

        One lane change may be necessary to make it from the far lane of I-75 south onto the Third Street exit, but Mr. Deatrick says that the dedicated lanes makes it much easier to put the proper signs over the proper exit lanes.

        And that makes it easier for drivers to make the proper adjustment well ahead of time, although there will be some merging until all eight lanes of the trench open — expected to take at least another month.

        “For all the people who have dealt with all the problems over the last two years, this should make up for it,” Mr. Deatrick says.