The long-awaited South Hamilton Crossing overpass project is getting closer to becoming a reality as utility relocation work is underway in preparation for future construction.
This week, the city of Hamilton closed the Central Avenue crossing for 12 weeks just north of Grand Boulevard and Pleasant Avenue, so Cincinnati Bell crews can relocate major telecommunication lines to allow construction work to begin on the nearly $29 million South Hamilton Crossing project.
While the Central Avenue crossing is closed, city officials said motorists can expect lane shifts and restricted turning movements with one lane of traffic maintained in each direction on Pleasant Avenue while Central Avenue is closed for the utility relocation work. The city said, if possible, Central Avenue may re-open for a short period of time but could remain closed for the duration of the project.
David Spinney, executive director of the Butler County Transportation Improvement District, told the Journal-News several weeks ago that the final plans, specifications and approved environmental documents were sent to the Ohio Department of Transportation in late January and that bids for the project could be solicited in early April with a contract awarded in May.
The planned project includes various improvements on Grand Boulevard starting just west of Twelfth Street. The project includes various street and intersection improvements, an overpass over the CSX railroad tracks, a relocated intersection of Grand Boulevard and Pleasant Avenue/U.S. 127, and continuing with the extension of Grand Boulevard with other future intersection improvements before connecting with University Boulevard.
The new road extension and overpass will create a new direct east/west route from Ohio 4 to University Boulevard for residents and businesses. In addition, it will provide a direct route to Miami University Hamilton and the Vora Technology Park, where 1,500 new jobs at the new BarclayCard processing facility will be located, and also open up between 50 to 60 acres of greenfield at the city-owned University Commerce Park for future development.
Once the project is completed sometime in late 2018, it will eliminate several safety issues that has concerned city officials since 1910 that include numerous car/train accidents where two lanes of Central Avenue cross four rail tracks owned by CSX and Norfolk Southern, as well as delaying first responders in emergencies due to train traffic, according to a history on the city website written by local historian Jim Blount.
City officials have also said when the rail crossing is blocked due to passing trains, it could mean a detour of about three miles and adding close to 10 minutes for police, fire and emergency medical services responding to residents and businesses on a busy day. The rail tracks bisect Hamilton north and south and are mainlines for both railroads. About 60 trains a day come through Hamilton daily and traffic is blocked at that crossing and nine others some 15 percent during the day, officials said.
In addition to eliminating the current unsafe rail crossing that is used by thousands of vehicles a day, the new overpass will reduce congestion on High Street.
City Manager Joshua Smith credited the efforts of former city manager Mike Samoviski, city engineer Rich Engle, development director Jody Gunderson, Vice Mayor Carla Fiehrer and the county TID for their advocacy of the project over the past five to 10 years. He also credited Melissa Taylor from ODOT and the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments for putting in the final funding pieces for this capital project.
In addition to the South Hamilton Crossing project, Smith said the Butler County Engineer has expressed interest in building a roundabout at the Five Points intersection in 2018-2019 and is seeking city support for the project.
“Greg Wilkens mentioned Butler County/Fairfield Township were contemplating a roundabout at the Five Points intersection,” Smith said in an email. “The city is very interested in pursuing that type of intersection improvement, as we look to improve the connectivity between Hamilton and Interstate 75, either by better utilizing Hamilton-Mason Road or Tylersville Road. That would reduce traffic volume on High Street from drivers who want to get to Miami University-Hamilton, BarclayCard, VORA Tech Park without needing to be in downtown Hamilton.”
Smith recently told Hamilton City Council that he thought it “would be a great intersection improvement, especially as South Hamilton Crossing is going to be starting this year.”