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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Viaduct

It's not abandoned yet, but the Western Hills Viaduct is crumbling beneath the thousands of cars it carries every day. The City of Cincinnati is planning to spend millions over the next five years, however, for a rehab and/or replacement plan. Sadly, the billions upon billions of dollars being spent on the I-75 Mill Creek Expressway Project and the Brent Spence Bridge Replacement/Rehab Plan don't account for the Viaduct, and barely alter the interchange with I-75 at all. This could be a missed opportunity, but it may be possible for the City to attempt to propose plans for the Viaduct, and take advantage of the massive projects that are forthcoming by extending the bounds of those projects. A new viaduct could be built simultaneously to the massive reconstruction of I-75, and it would improve traffic flow in the grand scheme of the interstate. Doing this would leave the old one disconnected from traffic, and ready for a contemporary alternative use. This is a proposal for just that, a way to use a (soon to be) abandoned, decaying piece of urban infrastructure as something positive, in this case a park:

Western Hills Viaduct Rehabilitation Proposal
Western Hills Viaduct Park Project presentation poster, click to enlarge.

I won't get into the history too much, because between Jake Mecklenborg at Cincinnati Transit and Sherman Cahal at Bridges & Tunnels, it's written up perfectly, but it's extremely important to note that the Viaduct was built in 1932 and is one of the most architecturally significant bridges in Cincinnati. It's not often a bridge has such character, and the threat of it being demolished caught my attention.

Western Hills Viaduct Rehabilitation Proposal
The eastern archway of the Viaduct, shown here with park space on top deck.

Western Hills Viaduct Rehabilitation Proposal
The proposed, hypothetical Western Hills Viaduct rehab/replacement plan. Click to enlarge.

Western Hills Viaduct Rehabilitation Proposal
Typical scene atop the proposed Viaduct Park.

The concept is a simple one. After hundreds of thousands of dollars of research, the city will probably determine it is more viable to replace the Western Hills Viaduct than rehab it. Aside from the fact that it's old and difficult to upkeep, the lanes are too narrow, the sidewalk is a joke, and it fails to meet a number of standards that came about when the interstates were first built (since it was built 30 years prior to any interstate highway). If replacement is the way to go, a little investment could make the historic structure into a destination.

Western Hills Viaduct Rehabilitation Proposal
What the new Viaduct Park would like like from above, with the Cincinnati skyline behind.

A similar project has been undertaken in New York City, where an aging, defunct elevated freight rail line was converted into a park. The High Line recently opened its first phase to the public, and has become extremely popular.

The High Line
The recently opened High Line park in New York City.



Anonymous said...

Yeah I trust the city to do the right thing. This is gonna be another lets talk about 10 more years then we'll "maybe" actually do something once the politicians figure out how they can line their pockets with more taxpayer money (or kickbacks like The Banks project) so they can bring in illegal aliens.

AeroEights said...

Awesome concept. This would be a great connector from the Mill Creek Trail to Clifton, OTR or Fairmount. Any thoughts on a commercial use for the lower deck?

5chw4r7z said...

JEZUZ, I'm tired of hearing about the Banks, all the people who stonewalled it are gone.
Its a new day.

A viaduct park would be so awesome.

Venkman said...

Thanks for the comments.

@AeroEights, I had thought about a few ideas as the square footage is huge. A restaurant or market of some type would seemingly work. The Harrison Terminal building is slated to become lofts at some point and is immediately adjacent to the Viaduct, so it'd be the beginning of a nice little niche neighborhood.

I had initially thought about a hotel, but the squealing of the train brakes all night would make that a bad choice, I think. If you haven't heard them, they're LOUD, and they operate all through the night.

Randy Simes said...

If in fact it is found that the Western Hills Viaduct can not be reused for automobiles, then I think this park concept would be terrific. It would offer a connection for recreational and commuter bicyclists, create a connection for our park system from the basin across the rail yard and to the western hills, and function as a great use for the historic structure.

One thing with New York's Highline is that it has been such a raging success thanks to the help of the project becoming the it thing among several prominent celebrities who ponied up big money and advocacy for the project. Cincinnati too will need some prominent advocates, or a massive groundswell of support among those in the region, to save the viaduct for this purpose otherwise I fear it would be lost to the wrecking ball.

Daniel said...

I love the idea of turning this bridge into a park but as someone who now lives on the westside but didn't grow up here, I have major concerns about how this will be replaced. This interchange is my main path to the rest of the northern world and something needs to exist in this area for travel.

I wonder how much this will be used as a park since there aren't many residents near to this park. The City recently stripped down a bunch of basketball courts, pools, parks, etc into smaller less useful versions for reasons I can only guess at.

With that rant said, I hope something like this park can happen and that it improves driving on the westside as well.

AeroEights said...

@Venkman. A hotel could makes a lot of sense at the east end at I-75 with revised ramping. The Harrison Terminal Property could provide an eastern anchor for the WHViaduct as a connected renovated apartment project, as planned or a new hotel (or both). A similar office building could anchor the western end. The lower deck of the Viaduct could serve to bridge the anchors with almost 100k s.f. of office / retail. Access could come from an extended street car line from the top deck above and from below with parking off Spring Grove Avenue and State Street.

Venkman said...

@Randy, some major corporate sponsors would be nice. I think there could be potential to get a few of Cincy's big businesses to get behind this, especially in return for advertising space or publicity.

@Daniel, if you look at the poster I've drawn up a shorter viaduct to the north that fits in without demolition of any buildings, and barely alters how traffic flows. It's drawn to DOT highway standards, and would be a pretty standard bridge and interchange.

As for the questions about use, I think between connecting to Fairview Park up the hill on the east side, and the future plans for a Mill Creek greenway/bike path this park would get utilized. There's also the potential it could become a destination people travel to, as the view is great and plenty of kids and adults alike love to look at trains.

Craig Moyer said...

I think its a good idea, but a huge draw to the highline in Manhattan is how the park seems to weave through a dense jungle of skyscrapers, at one point also going through a building.

Would this park be an addition to Cincinnati's architectural vocabulary, or would it turn into a barren urban park suspended above the city's industrial heart?

I really love the incorporation of Fairview Park, which is close to where I live and if this was actually built it would be a place I would often visit.

Paul Wilham said...

Great Idea! Indianpolis kept the old Washington Street bridge as part of white river state park and its very sucessfull. Given the proximity of the viadauct to Christian Park natures preserve I'd love to see a tie in.

If Knox Hill gets its historic district status (we are working on it) this would be a huge asset to neighborhood redevelopment.

They should approach this as a State Park as it makes State and Federal funding more available.


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