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Western Hills Viaduct Project gets underway this week, but don't expect to drive on a new bridge soon

The Western Hills Viaduct Project begins this week.
Jolene Almendarez
The Western Hills Viaduct Project begins this week.

It'll take about eight years before the Western Hills Viaduct replacement project is complete. But by 2030, officials say commuters will be cruising on a new bridge. Site preparation in South Fairmount begins this week.

"It's a great tribute to the people of Hamilton County to have the forethought to be able to see what infrastructure needs to be improved and to move forward with that," said Hamilton County Engineer Eric Beck.

Site preparation includes tearing down six buildings, the relocation of a Duke Energy substation and transmission line, other utility relocations, and railroad track relocations. It also includes the construction of foundational supports. It's expected to last until 2025.

Construction on the bridge, which will be built about 50-feet south of the existing one, is scheduled to be completed in 2030. It's estimated to cost $398 million.

Bill Shefcik, project manager for Cincinnati's Department of Transportation and Engineering, says there are two main reasons the project will take so long to build.

"One is the railroad yard, working with the railroad and the design of the new bridge. So that takes some time and the coordination and the approvals of the railroad," he said. "The other big factor is this utility line that's in in the railroad yard, going across, and relocating the substation. So that whole process of building a new substation and relocating this utility line is about three to four years."

He says working with the railroad includes having flaggers on hand to let workers know train schedules.

"So ideally, you work in advance, try to plan ahead, windows of time that you need, so that you can work over the tracks and around the tracks," he said, noting that Norfolk Southern and CSX railroads nearby cannot have their schedules impacted by construction.

He says minor traffic delays from the project may pop up in the coming years, but major traffic closures aren't expected until construction on the bridge begins. He says repairing the existing 90-year-old viaduct would have shut it down completely.

About 55,000 vehicles a day use the viaduct to get over the the Mill Creek Valley and railroad yard.

The project received a $205 million dollar Grant from the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority last year, which was funded by a Hamilton County sales tax levy for transit in 2020. The city and county also received $152 million in federal and local matching for the project, according to a news release.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.