Cranley pledges $33M for new Western Hills Viaduct

CINCINNATI -- Mayor John Cranley announced the city will pledge $33 million to replace the Western Hills Viaduct, a "structurally sound" but crumbling and obsolete bridge upon which 55,000 people depend to make their commute every day.

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With the aging, 85-year-old bridge -- cracked concrete and all -- as the backdrop, Cranley made the announcement during a news conference Tuesday. He explained that the money would come from the city's capital budget starting around the year 2020.

Cranley’s starting on Western Hills Viaduct plan now @WCPO “This absolutely must happen. It is the lifeblood of the West Side.” pic.twitter.com/xAfkAaJ4bd

— Pat LaFleur (@pat_laFleur) December 14, 2017

"I grew up driving this bridge, and it needs to be replaced," he said. "This absolutely must happen. It is the lifeblood of the West Side."

Cranley said he expects the city's financial advisors to present City Council with various options for where in the budget the $33 million would emerge. One of those options could be an increase in property taxes, but Cranley said that's "not necessarily" going to be needed.

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"There's no question that if you look at our capital debt over the next five or six years, we'll be able to free up $33 million," he told reporters. "There will be a variety of options for Council to consider in January."

Part of the measure Council will consider next week calls on the city's financial advisors to prepare multiple options for how to structure the plan.

One solution Cranley envisions involves the city's currently in-progress Capital Acceleration Program, a 5-year plan that dedicates public funds to improving the city's roads and replenishing its aging fleet of police and fire vehicles, ambulances, snow plows and salt trucks.

"Over the last three years, we have been doing this CAP program to increase road paving and fleet replacement," he told WCPO. "We sort of surged capital spending to fix our roads. By 2020 we will have caught up on our roads, so we'll have capacity to issue this debt in the existing capital budget."

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Hamilton County Commissioners voted in late November to raise a portion of that money by adding an additional $5 fee to car registrations and renewals in Hamilton County, and commissioner Todd Portune estimated that would yield between $20-30 million for the viaduct.

"We should not be in a position to pay for this bridge all by ourselves," Portune said in October, alluding to the potential for finding state and federal funding to contribute, as well.

All told, the county has promised an additional $33 million toward the project, bringing local contributions to $66 million.

Leaders anticipate a combined 20-percent match from the city and county should be enough to convince state and federal lawmakers to pitch in the rest for the project.

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Cranley echoed this statement in a WCPO-hosted mayoral debate, emphasizing the need for outside money and the viaduct's importance as a connector between Downtown and the West Side, but did not offer any concrete suggestions for how he would fill the funding hole.

Thursday afternoon might bring such suggestions. Cranley, joined by Portune as well as City Councilmembers Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and Kevin Flynn, will announce his plan for the future at 2 p.m. in front of the viaduct.

In addition, the bottom deck of the viaduct will be closed Friday and Saturday for inspection and maintenance. Through traffic in both directions will be allowed via the top deck of the viaduct.
The closure will be in effect 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation and mobility for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) and on Facebook.

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