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Cincinnati fell way short of its road paving goal last year, thanks to rising costs

Tana Weingartner

The rising cost of construction is taking a toll on Cincinnati roadways. A new report shows the city had a goal to re-pave 100 lane miles last year, but managed to complete just 42 lane miles.

“I think that was the biggest takeaway from our 2021 report is just we're starting to see the impacts of the high cost of construction and the materials and labor as everything's gone up,” said Director of Transportation and Engineering John Brazina. “And then we're just doing less and costing more.”

The city has about 2,900 lane miles to maintain. The overall quality of Cincinnati roads went down slightly last year. The city tracks this with a Pavement Condition Index, or PCI; the citywide average was around 70 out of 100 in 2020. Last year, that went down to 67.

Brazina says they also couldn’t do any of the usual preventive maintenance last year.

“When we do a crack seal program — preventative maintenance that extends the life of the pavement, so we're trying to get as much out of those pavements as we can — can we get 20-25, 30-35 years out of that pavement life?” he said. “If we don't do that, we're going to be back rehabbing those streets a little bit sooner.”

Brazina says DOTE relies heavily on outside funding to maintain infrastructure across the city; from 2019 to 2021, DOTE applied for more than 70 grants and was awarded funding for about 60% of those.

“Those [grants] are hitting [projects like] Glenway Avenue, Ridge Avenue … a big significant part of the arterioles that we're hitting with our program, which is going to be huge when it comes to reaching that 100-lane mile goal,” Brazina said. “Unfortunately, some of the other side streets, residential streets, won't be able to be rehabbed this year as part of that program. So as we bid those projects, the money that we have leftover we are planning on doing a smaller package of residential streets.”

The report also outlines the conditions of other city infrastructure.

The roughly 240 bridges in the city are in satisfactory condition; of those, 71 are city-owned. The report says the current level of city funding isn’t enough for long-term maintenance.

The city has more than 800 traffic signals, which are replaced on a 25-year life cycle schedule; the average age of signals in the system is 24 years.

A Computerized Traffic Control System (CTCS) controls traffic signals and pedestrian walk lights. CTCS is divided into 16 geographical zones, and only three have been updated with digital communications equipment. According to the report, the other 13 zones have equipment more than 30 years old that is now obsolete.

See a summary of the report below. The full report is available as attachments on the Cincinnati Council online system.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.