Days before Hamilton officials plan to open South Hamilton Crossing today, the city’s new comprehensive plan officially unveiled Monday is urging creation of a new highway — North Hamilton Crossing — that would alleviate heavy congestion on High and Main streets.
Hamilton officials want North Hamilton Crossing — a proposed east-west route that would wrap around the northern edge of the city — to happen a lot faster than South Hamilton Crossing. That project began in earnest in 2005 and is scheduled to open after a 10 a.m. today ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The ceremony will include three World War II veterans, and Jackie Blount. Blount is the wife of the late Hamilton historian Jim Blount, a former Journal-News editor who through the decades pushed for the highway project, whose overpass has been named after him.
Hamilton’s comprehensive plan, called Plan Hamilton, is intended to guide city development over the next 15 years. Officials hope the highway can be completed about a decade from now, which may be optimistic.
Here’s what the comprehensive plan says about North Hamilton Crossing: “A key piece of feedback from Hamilton residents is the need for vehicular traffic to be better separated from the train traffic to reduce the travel time to get from the west side of Hamilton to the east side.”
The plan adds: “The potential addition of a northern arterial road, a North Hamilton Crossing, will increase opportunities for development and growth to the north and west of downtown. This will also increase connectivity across the river, improving traffic flow and access to other neighborhoods and to the larger region.”
With plans for the proposed Spooky Nook at Champion Mill gigantic indoor sports complex and convention center, the biggest concern voiced by Hamilton residents appears to be that athletes and visitors will create added traffic that will greatly worsen the situation. City Manager Joshua Smith has said he believes most of the traffic will be at times when rush-hour traffic isn’t happening — mainly Friday evenings and weekends — so it should not cause many problems.
Asked about the project, Smith said the city understands it must continue to find ways to move people “more efficiently” through Hamilton. A North Hamilton Crossing is certainly high on that “transportation improvement list,” he said.
Smith said the city will work with the Butler County Engineer’s Office on possible routes, will begin “the very long process of gathering public input,” and will insert the desired route into planning documents. Then officials must perform required environmental and engineering studies, and work with the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana (OKI) Regional Council of Governments to obtain substantial grant funding.
Among expensive parts of the project will be land acquisition and the need for a bridge that passes over the Great Miami River and railroad tracks.
“We do not want this new bridge to take nearly as long as South Hamilton Crossing took to complete, in terms of articulating the desire and getting to construction,” Smith said. “Once we hear from the public and the engineers on the desired route, we must systematically work through the process.”
The proposed highway bypass “is very critical — it’s been in city planning for decades,” Engle said. “It was in the last city master plan as well. Northwest Washington (Boulevard) is supposed to be a circular route around the city. It was never completed on the East Side.
“The main intent, from what I understand, is to get a bridge from where Northwest Washington and West Elkton (Road) and B Street come together, across the river and the CSX railroad tracks, somewhere, somehow.”
One possible end point for the roadway would be Hampshire Drive, which meets Ohio 129 near Hamilton’s eastern edge.
Officials don’t have a prediction of how much the project might cost, Engle said.
North Hamilton Crossing “is going to be necessary in the future,” said Dan Bates, president and CEO of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, primarily because of Spooky Nook.
"That's going to redirect a lot of traffic (off of the High-Main corridor)," Bates said. "My only thing is I don't want to redirect too much traffic, because you still want a little bit of traffic" that will drive past the stores, restaurants and other businesses on Main and High.
“I think at some point, it is going to be necessary. Once you have Spooky Nook in place, and you have all the people coming into town, I think the growth of the city is going to be much larger than people expect.”
Bates said there won’t be overwhelming amounts of traffic to Spooky Nook at first, but instead it will grow through the first few years of operations.
The existing Spooky Nook facility in Pennsylvania has transformed the nearby city of Lancaster from a city that was dead at night to one that is energized, with many more businesses now, said Bates, who has made three trips to the area on behalf of the Hamilton region.
Francis Michaels, owner of the Pop Revolution framing shop at 118 Main St., said given that the proposed bypass will happen several years after Spooky Nook opens, he isn’t concerned about there being too little foot traffic on Main and High streets.
That’s because, “Honestly, then, I don’t think it’s going to affect the business on High/Main streets, because there’s going to be so much customer traffic, because of Spooky Nook, that I don’t think it’s going to matter,” Michaels said.