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Western Hills Viaduct Work May Not Begin Until 2025 Without Major Cash Infusion

Hamilton County
Latest rendering of what could replace the aging Western Hills Viaduct.

Hamilton County and Cincinnati officials continue fundraising and design work on plans to replace the aging Western Hills Viaduct. County Engineer Eric Beck provided an update Tuesday to county commissioners.

The latest estimated cost to replace the viaduct is $335 million. The new bridge would be constructed south of the existing viaduct.

"We've secured about $118 million to date," Beck said. "So we're getting there, we're chipping away at it with these monies that we are setting aside. We go to the bond market, depending on the method we use to go ahead and build this project, we should be in good shape in the near future to be able to move forward with construction."

It's also likely that a portion of the 0.8% sales tax increase county voters approved in this year's primary election will fund the project. Most of that money will be used to fund Cincinnati Metro, but a portion will be used for infrastructure projects in the county.

County Commissioner President Denise Driehaus described the current state of the project funding as good news; bad news.

"I think the good news is that the local match by the city and the county are in place, but we have not gotten the support that we were hoping for from the federal government related to infrastructure," Driehaus said. "So, we have not been able to make as much forward progress as we had hoped for."

Unless there's a major infusion of cash in the near future, Beck expects actual construction work on the new viaduct won't start until 2025.

Beck said design work is 10% complete, and the final design is now 90% funded.

The replacement will be what is called an "extradosed" structure. Beck said he's not seen such a bridge in this area. He describes it as being part truss and part girder. He said this design will help with construction over the active CSX rail yard. That will move some of the construction above the rail yard instead of on the ground in the yard.

Right-of-way acquisition for the project is fully funded, and 40% of the properties have been acquired.

Beck said Duke Energy will pay to relocate an electric substation for the viaduct replacement work, and the county/city will have to pay to relocate electric transmission towers in the rail yard.  He said Duke's decision saved the project $30 million.

He also said officials are working closely will CSX.

"So by working with them in the design end, we hopefully will save time and money on the construction end," Beck said.

The Cincinnati Department of Transportation and Engineering is moving forward with a plan to install netting on the upper deck of the existing Western Hills Viaduct to prevent concrete from falling on the lower deck of the viaduct. That work is expected to be complete early next year and cost about $65,000.

The current viaduct was built in 1932 and is beyond its useful and design life. It currently carries about 55,000 vehicles a day.

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.