Cincinnati.com Highlights Proposed $70M MLK interchange at I-71

(Above: Beth Robinson, CEO of Uptown Consortium, and Patricia Milton, president of the Avondale Community Council / The Enquirer/Cara Owsley)

 

Tens of thousands of workers at the University of Cincinnati and hospitals on Pill Hill envision an end to traffic tie-ups ranked the worst in the region.

Gov. John Kasich, city and business leaders are counting thousands of new jobs. Developers have their sights set on plans for the last, vast acres of unused city land.

And Avondale and Walnut Hills community leaders see new market-rate housing to attract new families and reduce poverty and crime.

Suddenly, a proposed $70 million interchange at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive could be on the verge of a breakthrough, unlocking the potential of the region’s second-largest job hub after downtown Cincinnati.

“You’re looking at an explosive growth scenario if you can open that area up,” City Manager Milton Dohoney said.

The interchange project has been on the drawing boards for nearly two decades, not because of opposition, but because of a lack of city, state and federal money. But late last month, Kasich’s transportation director challenged state engineers to make the interchange a priority. The governor wants construction to start by July 2014, calling the project crucial for economic development.

Separately, the Cincinnati City Council has voted to approve a controversial parking plan that would infuse $20 million into the project. If the parking deal holds up – a taxpayer challenge is under way – money for the MLK project could become available in June.

Planners say a new interchange would create easy access from I-71 to an area where more than 55,000 employees work at places including UC, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Christ Hospital, TriHealth and the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. About 7,000 permanent jobs would be created at new commercial developments and expanded companies and institutions in Uptown, planners say. That’s on top of 3,000 construction jobs projected to build the project.

Hamilton County would receive $460 million a year in economic benefits, according to a UC Economics Center study.

“We’ve just seen massive growth in Uptown in the past 10 to 15 years, with the expansion of Children’s and the university,” Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said. “The pressure has been building to get this done.”

Funding challenges remain, partly because the state is overcommitted to projects by $1.2 billion. But the state has allocated $5.4 million in the past 10 months – enough to finish design work. The project could be finished by spring 2016, said Steve Mary, director of the local office of the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The state’s Transportation Review Advisory Council’s official project list calls for the project to not start until after 2027. But that’s a standard schedule based on budget shortfalls and traditional funding models. Projects can leap to the top of the list with alternate funding contributions, such as the parking-lease money.

 

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