Warren County officials fear potential $6B Cincinnati bypass

Transportation officials in Ohio and Kentucky are continuing to study the possibility of building a new highway crossing the Ohio River from northern Kentucky, around Cincinnati and continuing across Interstate 71 south of Lebanon to Interstate 75 in Franklin.

Projections are that the proposed road - dubbed the Cincinnati Eastern Bypass - would cost as much as $6 billion to build.

The size, cost and potential impact of the project have led some critics, including Warren County Engineer Neil Tunison, to call for the studies themselves to be cancelled.

Tunison said the project is unnecessary and would take funding away from other needed local projects like widening existing local roads, such as Ohio 63 as it heads east from I-75 toward Lebanon.

“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.

The bypass idea came out of discussions several years ago of how to relieve traffic congestion across the Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati.

RELATED: Bypass proposed as Brent Spence bridge alternative

Now it is viewed as a separate potential project, according to officials.

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.

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) responded to requests for a map of the proposed route with one on the group’s web site.

“We support the immediate planning and construction of the Cincy Eastern Bypass because of its very high regional transportation and economic value,” the Citizens for the Cincy Eastern Bypass website states. “As part of the Brent Spence corridor solution, we believe that it is a vital project for my community that must be built now.”

The Ohio study is being conducted internally by ODOT. The Ohio study was mandated in April as part of the two-year state transportation budget, which sets aside $7.9 billion for transportation projects across the state.

By the end of this year the budget calls for ODOT to report to Ohio legislators on Kentucky’s study of the proposed highway, as well as details on coordination between the states’ transportation officials and “next steps the Ohio Department of Transportation is taking or needs to take to coordinate with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to plan and construct the Eastern Bypass.”

Last week, ODOT Press Secretary Matt Bruning said the report would include a recommendation to state lawmakers on the viability and cost, as well as a map or maps. He said earlier estimates projected costs of more than $5 billion in Ohio.

In comparison, Bruning said ODOT’s statewide budget for projects between June 2019 and July 2020 totaled $2.1 billion. He put the projected cost of Brent Spence Bridge improvements at $2 billion to $3 billion.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is in the midst of a $2 million study of the "Northern Kentucky Outer Loop." So far the study has narrowed the proposed route to four alternatives and projected costs of $1 billion or more for the Kentucky section. The Kentucky study is being conducted by a global transportation consulting firm called Stantec.

RELATED: Warren County seeks funds for millions in Lebanon-area road work 

Mark Policinski, CEO for the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI), welcomed the studies.

“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.

The road would be constructed a problem for Lebanon, Lebanon Councilman Jeff Aylor said.

“It would currently come right along our western city limit and dramatically impact the access to the city,” said Aylor in a response to the Dayton Daily News voter’s guide for the upcoming election. The road as its envisioned now would pass through where Neil Armstrong Way heads north off Ohio 63, known as Main Street in Lebanon.

Steve Kaiser, a former Lebanon councilman running for the office again this fall, has also opposed the bypass.

State Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Mount Lookout, said Warren County opposition was another example of “shortsightedness” that prevented extension of Ohio 129 from Hamilton across I-75 into Warren County.

Brinkman said he could see the bypass ending after crossing I-71, rather than continuing across Warren County to I-75. This would serve Amazon truck traffic from Wilmington to Lunken Airport in Cincinnati, he said.

If Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin is reelected in November, Brinkman said Kentucky was likely to move ahead with planning for its part of the bypass. By putting the ODOT study in the transportation budget, Brinkman said he expected the two state transportation officials to work together.

“We’re just trying to look ahead,” he said. “We can’t be shortsighted.”

Brinkman said he suspected costs are “overestimated” and suggested the project costs could also be reduced

Brinkman said he was working on a state bill establishing alternative financing options, such as tolls or private partnerships, to pay for projects like the Cincinnati Eastern Bypass.

Brinkman also said “we need leadership,” including Gov. Mike DeWine, to make the project happen.

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