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It's never been more important to understand our neighbors on a deeper level. With careful, embedded reporting and engaging long-form narrative journalism, Community Dispatch will regularly bring you a series from one of our region's varying communities to explore their experiences, their concerns, and their defining sorrows and joys.

The Lockland Split is going away. But will that help the village?

The southbound lanes of I-75 as they travel the former path of the Miami-Erie Canal through Lockland. To the left is a historic bandstand that will need to be relocated when the northbound lanes of the highway are relocated here from their present location a half-mile east.
Nick Swartsell
/
WVXU
The southbound lanes of I-75 as they travel the former path of the Miami-Erie Canal through Lockland. To the left is a historic bandstand that will need to be relocated when the northbound lanes of the highway are relocated here from their present location a half-mile east.

You probably know the name Lockland for at least one reason.

"I'll meet people, and they'll say, 'Lockland, Lockland?' and I'll say, 'you've driven through it,' " Lockland Mayor Mark Mason says. "You're going southbound and you come up on these walls... and they'll say 'oh, the Lockland Split!' "

He's talking about the one-and-a-half mile long, half-mile wide bubble formed as the northbound and southbound lanes of I-75 diverge around a big chunk of the village.

The anomaly gives Lockland some of its identity. Its days are numbered, though.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is uniting the highway over the next decade as part of a massive project called Thru the Valley.

But the I75 unification reminds Lockland of past highway pain and underlines its current deep struggles with connectivity to the areas around it.

ODOT spokesperson Kathleen Fuller says adding a fourth lane in each direction and bringing the highway together is necessary.

"We have more traffic than what our roadways can actually handle," she says. "It's not a 'build it and they will come' mentality. They've already come, they're already on the roadway. This helps improve safety tremendously."

The I-75 interchange in Lockland. ODOT says it's dangerously outdated and will be relocated and replaced by a modern interchange during the Thru the Valley project.
Nick Swartsell
/
WVXU
The I-75 interchange in Lockland. ODOT says it's dangerously outdated and will be relocated and replaced by a modern interchange during the Thru the Valley project.

Southbound 75 used to be the Miami-Erie Canal. The federal government built an early highway there during World War II to serve Wright Aviation, which was producing airplane engines for the war effort.

The state built the split in 1963. How it came about is murky, but mattress giant Stearns and Foster was likely one reason. Its factory was at what would become the north end of the split.

The split came with a cost. An August 1960 Cincinnati Enquirer story reports Lockland officials pushed back on the state transportation department's initial plans for removing 116 houses for the split. Eventually, 31 would come down.

"There is a question of spending millions of dollars of federal funds to run over four towns in order to get two lanes of highway for three miles when the present highway has not proved inadequate," then-Lockland Mayor Albert Leflar said at the time.

The municipality did its own traffic count in 1960 and claimed the highway was at only 25 percent capacity during peak hours, the Enquirer reported.

Mason says more homes were removed for the highway during another project last decade.

"It was like 54 homes," he says. "It was huge. These were generational homes that had been here since 1920, 1930. Catherine Avenue, we lost homes. We lost an entire street called East Forrer on the other side of the highway. We've lost a lot of homes, and we're going to lose more when they put northbound next to southbound."

ODOT's Fuller acknowledges the Thru the Valley project will cost Lockland more homes. But she says uniting the highway actually saves properties over expanding the current configuration.

"Had we not done the unification I believe the number of residential takes was 55," she says. "It's now 36 with the unification."

Mike Sizemore and Sarah Standley-Sizemore have lived in Lockland near I-75 for 15 years.

Sizemore agrees with ODOT that traffic is an issue but wonders if the added lanes will really help much.

"I don't know if it's going to solve a problem," he says. "The traffic here is bad, but it's not that bad compared to most major cities."

Standley-Sizemore says the highway project last decade took homes a block away from theirs. Subsequent road closures near their house made it more challenging to get in and out of the village.

And then there are the trains.

"The trains just stop for hours," she says. "Hours and hours."

Five railroad crossings block roads in and out of Lockland. Residents say trains frequently stop on roads impeding emergency crews, making students late to school and causing lots of other problems. The village tried legal action to little avail.

Mason says the train frustrations only add to concerns about the highway. All of it makes the village feel penned in.

"We used to have an entry and an exit off West Forrer," he says. "They blocked that off. So now there's only one way out. So we're basically locked in here."

Fuller says ODOT wants to help connectivity with the new project. The transportation agency plans to move the village's current outdated highway interchange -- the one on Southbound 75 that requires you to make a sharp right turn off the highway. ODOT will add more modern and accessible on and off ramps nearby.

"We're not trying to sever those connections to the community," she says. "We're really trying to improve things."

Other efforts to stitch Lockland back together with the rest of the area are also underway. A federal grant earlier this year awarded Hamilton County $300,000 to study ways to reconnect Lockland and surrounding communities.

ODOT's work to unify the highway will wrap up in 2034. Mason says the day can't come quick enough.

"No community has been affected more by this Thru the Valley expansion," he says.

Nick has reported from a nuclear waste facility in the deserts of New Mexico, the White House press pool, a canoe on the Mill Creek, and even his desk one time.