An Ohio Department of Transportation study has concluded no more money should be spent on a proposal to build a new highway between Warren County and Northern Kentucky — bypassing Cincinnati — but an area lawmaker says he is undeterred.
A report on the proposed Cincinnati Eastern Bypass was mandated by Ohio lawmakers. It was issued Dec. 31 and concluded “it is ODOT’s opinion that no further expenditures of funding and staff time be put toward” bypass idea.
The 27-page ODOT study estimated the total project would cost from $5.4 billion to $7.3 billion, and it concluded that building it would have limited effect on traffic crossing the Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River.
State Rep. Tom Brinkman dismissed the report as the work of bureaucrats lacking vision.
“We need leadership and vision to make these things happen,” Brinkman, R-Mount Lookout, said Thursday.
The proposed highway would loop 67 miles from Kentucky into Ohio and potentially cross both I-71 and end at I-75, near Franklin. It was first envisioned as a way of taking traffic off I-75 and the aging Brent Spence Bridge in downtown Cincinnati.
“The Study estimates a maximum of ten percent of traffic would divert from the Brent Spence Bridge in 2040 if a bypass was constructed,” according to the report. “Completion of the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project should be the priority.”
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet continues to work on a planning study of its own and evaluate alternatives for its portion of the road.
The report estimates the cost of the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project at $2.6 billion.
Kentucky’s northern outer loop study estimated the eastern bypass would cost up to $5.3 billion — $2 billion less than the ODOT estimate.
The ODOT study indicated the bypass would result in “some regional traffic solutions and may enhance economic development opportunities.”
Promotion of the bypass has been led by the owners of Kentucky-based Fischer Homes and ” The Citizens for the Cincy Eastern Bypass, ” a diverse group of political and business leaders, and other citizens across the greater Cincinnati region,” according to the group’s web site.
There was no mention this week of the ODOT study on the citizen group’s web site.
The ODOT report emphasized that the region has other transportation funding needs, including the I-75 corridor. It also warned of potential environmental damage, particularly if the project required the highway to cross the Little Miami River. The study identified more than 15 square miles of land that would be subject to “significant impacts to property and environmental resources.”
The two states’ transportation officials are expected to coordinate future discussions of the bypass.
Since the report was delivered to the Ohio Assembly, there has been no official response from lawmakers, according to Matt Bruning, ODOT press secretary.
Brinkman said transportation technologies changing highway safety were more of an obstacle to the bypass coming to fruition than the ODOT study. He pointed to other billion-dollar infrastructure projects completed after leaders stepped forward.
“That’s all the Eastern Bypass needs is leadership with vision,” Brinkman said. “I don’t know if I’m that leader or if there’s a county commissioner in Warren County that’s going to be that leader.”
In 2015, Warren County Commissioner Tom Grossmann cast the lone vote against a county resolution opposing the bypass. He could not be reached for this story.
The other state representative in the area, Rep. Scott Lipps, R-Franklin, is opposed to the project. He said it would cut through farms and open up areas through which it passed to development.
“There’s a rural lifestyle here,” Lipps said, estimating 70 percent of more than 100 people in his district who have weighed in on the issue are opposed.
Lipps said he was unsure the overall view in the Ohio legislature, but suggested representatives from other rural districts should take his view, recognizing “it could happen someday” where they live.
“I’m extremely worried about this. If there is more discussion of this, I expect to have a voice,” Lipps said.
Last fall, Warren County Engineer Neil Tunison questioned the need for the bypass and suggested the money to go the Brent Spence Bridge project.
“The Eastern Bypass would provide locally a north-south connection into Clermont County that does not in my opinion require a major roadway being proposed. I would prefer seeing funding used for a bypass going to improve the Brent Spence bridge,” Tunison said.
Last fall, Mark Policinski, CEO for the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI), welcomed the study.
“People can have their opinions. What we need are some facts and figures,” Policinski said.”If this is pushed out 30 years, the cost could be more,” he added.
This week, OKI was still reviewing the ODOT report and had no comment, according to Lorrie Platt, the regional council’s director of communications and legislative affairs.