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Navigating Riverfest: How to get there, and how to get home


Riverfest returns to the banks of the Ohio River this Sunday. It's one of the biggest events in the area and ends with a free fireworks show over the river.

Important things to know

Cincinnati, Newport and Covington police all say they're ready for the event, and want those coming to be ready, too. Coolers, grills, tents, big umbrellas and large chairs are prohibited. Pets should be left at home. Drones, laser pointers and other electronic devices, and your own fireworks are all forbidden too. Police say don't bring roller skates, rollerblades, scooters, motorized vehicles or bicycles.

On the Cincinnati side of the river, anyone entering the festival at Sawyer Point should expect to have their bags inspected. Luggage and backpacks won’t be allowed in.

Newport Police say beverages, especially alcohol, should be left at home. People with infants can bring water, milk or formula. Covington Police say any alcohol for a private event in the impacted area must be brought in before 6 p.m. After that, even residents won't be able to.

Vendors must have a special event permit to be near the river.

Swimming in the Ohio and Licking rivers is not allowed during Riverfest, and boats cannot moor along the Covington shoreline.

Parents are advised to provide hearing protection for small children, and everyone's cautioned to wear clothing appropriate for the weather.

Cincinnati Parks says you can save your spot on Sawyer Point’s Serpentine Wall starting at noon Sunday. Any markers left before then will be thrown away. Mt. Echo Park is also open for firework viewing. The Cincinnati Parks Foundation is supporting a watch party with carnival games, face painting, a bounce hous, and food in the East Price Hill park.

Bridge and road closures

Cincinnati's Department of Transportation and Engineering predicts a quarter of a million people will turn out for the event. Getting people in won’t be too difficult, as the gates open at noon and Riverfest goes until the fireworks are done. They start at 9 p.m. Getting people away from the riverfront will be slower.

Newport Police strongly suggest planning which side of the river you want to be on before 6 p.m., Sunday. That's when bridges start to close, including the Roebling Suspension Bridge, the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge and the Taylor Southgate Bridge. Pedestrians can cross on the west side of the Taylor Southgate Bridge, but only before 7:30 p.m.

The Purple People Bridge isn't open because it’s used in the fireworks show.

Local access to I-471 from Cincinnati will be shut down at 7 p.m., and the Third Street exits from westbound Columbia Parkway and from southbound I-71 will close at 9 p.m.

Access to the Cincinnati riverfront will be limited to pedestrians only. Third Street and all Downtown streets to the north will be open, but after 11 a.m. Sunday, there won't be on-street parking south of Ninth Street.

DOTE recommends parking in a Downtown lot or garage, and either walking to The Banks, or taking the streetcar, which is free, or Metro.

Newport Police also say getting around might not be easy. Riverboat Row and Columbia Street north of Fourth Street close Sunday at 8 a.m. At 7:30 p.m. several other roads close, including Monmouth Street between Third and Eleventh streets, Dave Cowens Drive; Tenth Street between Saratoga and York; and the 471 off-ramps to Route 8. The Fourth Street bridge closes at 8:30 p.m. Northbound Licking Pike closes at Aspen Drive at 9 p.m.

In Covington, police say all streets north of east 4th from Madison Avenue to the Licking River close at 6 p.m. Access to Devou Park, Kenton Hills and the Bluffs will be restricted to residents and guests starting at 2 p.m.

The Roebling Suspension Bridge will be closed to all traffic starting at 6 p.m. The 4th Street Bridge between Newport and Covington will close at 8 p.m.

Madison Avenue will stay open for parking access until 6 p.m. or until the garages and parking lots are full. At that point, Madison will be closed to through traffic, except for TANK buses, Metropolitan Club invitation holders, and hotel guests.

Devou Park, Kenton Hills and The Bluffs will be restricted to residents and their guests, starting at 2 p.m.

A number of streets in Covington will be marked as “No Parking, Tow Away Zones,” starting Sunday at 7 a.m., including:

  • Riverside Drive
  • Garrard Street between East Second and Riverside
  • Kennedy Street between East Second and Riverside
  • Shelby Street, Scott Boulevard and Greenup Street north of East Fourth
  • East Third, east of Madison
  • Park Place
  • Court Street

Advice for getting out

Once the fireworks are done, getting away from the river will likely be slow going. All three cities say turn off your GPS and follow the directions of officers.

Newport Police say all outbound traffic will be sent to I-471 and I-275. They say if you are directed on a route you don't want to take, stay with it until you can get on an interstate, then take the next exit to turn around.

At about 9 p.m., Monmouth Street will reopen and become a one-way street going south. All traffic near Dave Cowens will be directed to I-471. Vehicles leaving via Columbia Street in Newport will be sent south on Licking Pike toward Wilder, and I-275.

Covington Police will keep streets near the riverfront closed until pedestrian traffic has cleared out, which could take an hour after the fireworks are done. Then officers will reopen the 4th Street Bridge, and Newport traffic can head west.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.