The Western Hills Viaduct is a large double-deck viaduct along Harrison Avenue in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The Harrison Avenue Viaduct was constructed in 1908 to connect central Cincinnati with Western Hills. Although it was rehabilitated in the 1920s at the cost of $200,000, the crossing was exhibiting structural failures in some piers and congestion because of its narrow width and heavy automobile, truck, and streetcar traffic. 1
As part of the construction of Cincinnati’s Union Terminal, a massive intercity train station, Col. Henry Waite, Chief Engineer of the Union Terminal Company, unveiled plans in September 1928 for the Western Hills Viaduct to eliminate the Liberty and Harrison Avenue viaducts and close the at-grade crossings of Queen City Avenue. 1 The railroads desired a centralized viaduct that wouldn’t impede operations in the vicinity of Union Terminal or prevent the expansion of the railroad yards in the Mill Creek valley, and the city desired a modern crossing that was above the flood plain of Mill Creek.
Other alternatives to the Western Hills Viaduct were studied, which included a crossing at Queen City Avenue which would have been 500 feet longer, feature no connection with McMillan Avenue, and have a lower western elevation that would put the streetcar tracks under the high water mark for Mill Creek. 1
The new crossing was estimated to cost $3.5 million, to be funded via $1.5 million from the Union Terminal Company, $1 million from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and $1 million by the city of Cincinnati. 1 3
Construction of the Western Hills Viaduct began on November 10, 1930. 3 15
The MacDougald Construction Company was selected as the general contractor for the viaduct, with the McClintic-Marshall Corporation as the subcontractor for the erection of structural steel, the MacArthur Concrete Pile Corporation and the Pierce Steel Pile Corporation as subcontractors for the piling, and the Folwell Engineering Company for the west approach. 15 The crossing opened to traffic five months ahead of schedule on January 16, 1932. 2 3 15
More than 10,000 citizens attended the grand opening ceremony in the rain which included a speech by Union Terminal Company President H.A. Worcester and the ceremonial cutting of a white ribbon by Mayor Russell Wilson. 3 Wilson had prepared a 125-word speech but decided to instead cut the ribbon because of the torrential downpours.
The new viaduct featured an upper deck for automobiles that connected Harrison Avenue to Central Parkway with a connection to McMillan Street; a lower deck for automobiles and trucks between Harrison Avenue, Beckman Street, and Spring Grove Avenue; accommodations for streetcars of the Westwood, John Street, and North Fairmont lines from the west that descended the ramp in the center of Harrison Avenue at Beckman Street and utilized the lower level to Spring Grove Avenue; a streetcar transfer station at Harrison Avenue; a 30-inch gas line and electrical conduits for the Union Gas & Electric Company; and telephone conduits for the local telephone company. 1 3
In May 1961, the state finalized planning for the Flint Street to Marshall Avenue section of the Mill Creek Expressway (Interstate 75). 4 It was the last section to be constructed, partly because of the need to rebuild the eastern approach to the Western Hills Viaduct which would include ramps to and from the expressway.
The ground was broken for the last section of the Mill Creek Expressway on September 12 6 and temporary ramps needed to permit the reconstruction of the viaduct were erected later in the year, 4 and by May 1962, demolition work on the viaduct from Spring Grove Avenue to Central Parkway was underway. 5 The partly reconstructed Western Hills Viaduct reopened to traffic on May 15, 1963. 7
After years of makeshift repairs to the aging viaduct, the city closed the Western Hills Viaduct to truck traffic in June 1973. 9 A rehabilitation of the crossing was proposed in 1974 that would cost $4.5 million, but federal guidelines necessitated the addition of a five-foot sidewalk and the widening of the traffic lanes by one foot on the upper deck which doubled the project costs to $9 million.
In March 1976, plans for the closing and renovating of the Western Hills Viaduct were approved by the city council. 8 The proposal went under review by the Ohio Department of Transportation and approved later in the year.
The bridge was closed to traffic in December. 10 11 The upper deck reopened on June 25, 1978, 11 while the lower deck reopened later in January 1979. 12 The rehabilitation project cost $7.6 million, of which half of the costs were borne by the federal government. 11
The Western Hills Viaduct began to reach the end of its structural and functional life by the dawn of the 21st century. Widespread and significant deterioration of the concrete has required routine chipping of loose cement from the underside of the deck, leading to the installation of netting below certain sections to prevent it from falling onto the pavement. 13 The city began studying on its replacement in 2010. 14
In December 2020, it was determined to replace the aging dual-deck crossing with a single-deck cable-stayed suspension structure 50-feet south of the existing bridge. 14 The new crossing will include four travel lanes in each direction, a sidewalk on the north side, and a multi-use path on the south side. It is estimated that the new bridge will cost $335 million, with the city and Hamilton County committing a combined $66 million toward the project, and federal and state grants contributing another $59 million.
Construction on the new viaduct is expected to begin in 2022 and open by 2028. 14 The projected lifespan of the new viaduct is 125 years.
- State: Ohio
- Route: Harrison Avenue
- Type: Open Spandrel Arch, Girder or Beam
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 3,300 feet
- Main Span Length: 120 feet
- Deck Width: 52 feet
- Roadway Width: 40 feet
- Navigational Clearance:
- “Obstacles.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 12 Sept. 1928, pp. 1-8.
- “Invitation to All Cincinnati.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 16 Jan. 1932, p. 22.
- “Viaduct Opened to Traffic.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 17 Jan. 1932, pp. 1-26.
- Kagler, Bill. “Final X-Way Plans Go To State This Week.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 30 May 1961, p. 4.
- “Work on Western Hills Viaduct Tie-In with X-Way.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 26 May. 1962, p. 23.
- White, Gerald. “Last Barricade Goes One Day This Fall – And Entire Mill Creek X-Way Will Open.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 7 Apr. 1963, 4E.
- “Western Hills Viaduct Opens.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 16 May 1963, p. 8.
- “List of Morning Detours During Viaduct Repairs.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 18 Mar. 1976, p. B1.
- Pasztor, Andy. “Repair Work on Bridge Would Close It Two Years.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 13 Aug. 1975, p. 1.
- “Celebrates Opening.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 26 Jun. 1978, p. A1.
- Sullivan, Gary. “Officials, Residents Evaluate Merits of Reopening Viaduct.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 26 Jun. 1978, p. D1.
- “Update.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 27 Dec. 1978, p. C1.
- “Western Hills Viaduct.” City of Cincinnati, 2021.
- Swilley, Kristen. “See what the Western Hills Viaduct’s replacement could look like.” WCPO, 3 Dec. 2020.
- “Double-Deck Viaduct Built Over Cincinnati Terminal.” Engineering News-Record, 11 Feb. 1932, pp. 202-205.
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