Hamilton investing millions to improve traffic flow

Capital improvement projects will be peppered all around the city. Several are relatively low-dollar figure projects, improving and upgrading traffic signals around the city, but there will be a couple traffic-intrusive projects that will change landscapes.

The marque project will be the $8.5 million East High Street Gateway project, which will include $3.2 million invested by the public works department. From Ohio 4 to Seventh Street, High Street will be reconstructed with new medians, curbs and turn lanes, and water and sanitary infrastructure will be installed.

“Traffic congestion was the most critical (reason for the project), and close behind was the aesthetics of the corridor,” said Richard Engle, director of Public Works.

More than 40,000 vehicles a day move through downtown Hamilton on High Street, which makes it a traveling nightmare during rush hour, he said. There has not been a formal study, but Engle said he believes that’s due to the opening of the Butler County Veterans Highway, which opened direct access to the eastern parts of the county and Interstate 75.

Once this project is complete, it will help make better “first impressions” in recruiting new business into the downtown, said Liz Hayden, Hamilton business development specialist.

“First impressions are especially important when considering that a prospect may know very little initially about Hamilton,” she said.

Hayden said that three years ago City Manager Joshua Smith convened a Blue Ribbon Commission with chief executives from Hamilton’s top employers and they identified improvements on East High Street “as a top priority.”

“Improving the traffic movement on a key corridor will help make Hamilton more attractive to businesses,” Hayden said. “The city and partner organizations have made strategic investments downtown to enhance quality of life and are beginning to see significant private sector investment as a consequence.”

A $3.5 million investment from public sources, mostly from state and federal tax credits, leveraged $8 million in private investment between the Mercantile Lofts, former Journal-News building, and the Robinson-Schwenn renovation projects.

“The East High Gateway project is a natural next step,” Hayden said.

One of the keys to helping move 40,000 vehicles along High Street will be the intersections at Ohio 4/High Street and Martin Luther King Jr./High Street.

Adding a dedicated right turn lane on eastbound High Street, for traffic heading south on Ohio 4, was “a critical piece” for solving traffic congestion because Engle said there’s significant backups from vehicles waiting to turn right in the lane that moves traffic onto the Butler Veterans Highway.

Once the East High Street Gateway project is finished — tentatively projected for mid-2015 — the city can turn its attention to the Martin Luther King Jr./High Street intersection improvements. Ninety percent of that $2.7 million project will be paid for by the Ohio Department of Transportation.

“Once (the Ohio 4 and MLK) intersections are improved (and the Gateway project) is done, I think we’ll see smoother access through the city, at least to get into the central business district,” Engle said.

Other projects slated to be addressed this year include:

  • Millville/Wasserman/Smalley intersection: This $650,000 project will add new left turn lanes on both east and west bound Millville Avenue and a new left turn lane on Wasserman Road. It will remove the median on Smalley Boulevard, replacing it with a left turn lane. New ADA-compliant pedestrian crosswalks and signals will be added.
  • Concrete repair and resurfacing: Hamilton has two years worth of funds for the annual concrete repair and resurfacing projects. The 2013 funds will resurface all or parts of 18 local streets. The 2014 funds will look to pave all or parts of 10 local streets. Repair work for sidewalks, curbs and gutters will also be part of the project. A collective $1.8 million will be used from city funds, and two $1 million grants have been awarded from the Ohio Public Works Commission. Residents will be assessed to help pay for the project, which tentatively could be as much as a collective $580,000 for the two program years.
  • Bike path: This spring the city is looking to complete phase 2 of the bike path project from Allison Avenue to the Great Miami River, which includes paving and a new bridge over the Hydraulic Canal. A bike ramp from RiversEdge to Access Road will be designed and constructed providing access from RiversEdge Park to the river and the bike path along the river. The bike path project is expected to cost $1.8 million, and the bike ramp is expected to cost $500,000 to construct.
  • Splash parks: Both splash parks will cost the city about $369,000. Splash parks are built on concrete or another type of playground surface and have several play structures that shoot and squirt water. One splash park will be installed at Wilson Pool Park; the other at Benninghofen Park. City officials hope to have them operational by Memorial Day.
  • Safe Routes to School: About $600,000 will be invested to install sidewalks with new handicap ramps, crosswalk striping and safety signs at 80 intersections on 16 streets. The Ohio Department of Transportation is investing $190,000 for the project. The projects encourage and enable children, including those with disabilities, to walk or bike to school safely, according to ODOT.

With millions of dollars being invested this year in the city’s infrastructure, more will be invested in the next few years, Engle said. There are several projects that will have engineering work and designs done this year, setting up projects to be constructed in 2015 or 2016.

South Hamilton Crossing is designed to replace at-grade railroad crossing with a bridge overpass. This would be created by extending Grand Boulevard west to Pleasant Avenue and then to University Boulevard. About $2.6 million is budgeted for engineering costs associated with the anticipated $25 million project.

The city also has budgeted engineering costs for the South D Street bridge replacement, which would rehabilitate the bridge foundation; and the Cleveland Avenue bridge replacement, which would replace that bridge with a new structure.

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