To mitigate traffic congestion and improve safety, efficiency and travel time reliability, crews in southwest Ohio are currently reconstructing a portion of Interstate 75. Dubbed “Thru the Valley” in homage to the iconic Mill Creek Valley in central Hamilton County, this seven-phase, multi-year project will serve to enhance one of the state’s most vital transportation corridors.
With a mission to ease the movement of people and goods, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is allocating approximately half a billion dollars to add lanes, resurface roadways and reconfigure interchanges along this 8-mile section of I-75, which stretches from Ohio 126 (Ronald Reagan Cross County Highway) to just south of I-275.
“This monumental project encompasses all facets of ODOT’s mission to take care of what we have, improve traffic mobility and protect the traveling public,” says Brian Cunningham, communications manager for ODOT District 8.
An Initiative for Safety, Efficiency & Reliability
Nearly two decades ago, the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) and the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission (MVRPC) came together to study the vitality of multimodal transport within their respective regions. The result of this planning effort was the North South Transportation Initiative (NSTI), which aims to improve the safety, efficiency and reliability of transportation networks throughout southwest Ohio, northern Kentucky and southeast Indiana. According to the NSTI final report dated February 2004, the OKI-MVRPC study primarily focused on the “backbone” of their multimodal transportation systems—I-75 and its parallel roadways and railroads.
I-75 is a 2,200-mile-long highway that connects communities and businesses in six states—from the Port of Miami, Florida, to Detroit, Michigan, where I-75 connects with Canadian Highway 401. According to Federal Highway Administration estimates, this critical north-south corridor carries nearly six million freight trucks each year.
Since the 1950s, highway engineers and safety researchers have reported a number of operational and safety hazards along I-75. As increasing traffic volumes continue to tax roadway capacity limits, areas of concern include: left-hand exit and entrance ramps; ramp tapers and merge/weave lengths too short for safe vehicle entry; close spacing between successive entrance and exit ramps; lane discontinuity, or lane drop, on the mainline freeway; lack of shoulders for disabled vehicles; and insufficient vertical and horizontal sight.
A congestion study conducted by MVRPC revealed I-75’s outdated design significantly impedes travel—accounting for roughly 30% of slowdowns in the MVRPC region and over two-thirds of total highway delay.
In the Thru the Valley project zone, the average daily traffic ranges between 120,000 and 155,000. “Due to high traffic volumes, motorist crashes and disabled vehicles frequently clog traffic flow,” Cunningham explains. “Also, I-75 is a major freight corridor, so the trucks mixing with automobiles often creates a surge that slows down traffic.”
While the NSTI identified multiple areas requiring infrastructure improvements, the Thru the Valley project was slated as a top priority in the OKI region.
A Strategic Multi-Project Setup
Thru the Valley consists of multiple projects intended to increase regional mobility and provide transportation solutions that are compatible with local residential and commercial development. This grouping of projects represents the first major work performed on I-75 in southwest Ohio since the early 1990s.
“The overall section being upgraded carries approximately 140,000 cars and trucks daily, and when completed, will meet traffic needs for several decades,” Cunningham says.
This endeavor also complements two other key interstate projects in southwest Ohio. The Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project, still in development stages, will include various roadway improvements, construction of a new bridge and refurbishing of the existing Brent Spence Bridge, which carries both I-75 and I-71 traffic to areas in Greater Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. Just south of Thru the Valley, the Mill Creek Expressway project is underway to modernize 8 miles of interstate between the Paddock Road interchange and the Western Hills Viaduct, Cincinnati’s largest viaduct.
“I-75 is located just west of downtown Cincinnati and is one of the primary routes used by travelers to reach various regional landmarks,” Cunningham says. Popular areas of interest include the downtown Central Business District (home to over 100,000 employees and 11,000 residents), The Banks entertainment district, stadiums for the Bengals and Reds sports teams, the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University, and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
Initial Project Phases
In May 2017, construction commenced on the first two phases of the project. This portion of work includes overhauling 2.7 miles of interstate and reconstructing 3.9 miles of ramps and local roads. The scope of these phases includes widening and resurfacing areas of I-75 between Shepherd Lane and Glendale-Milford Road, removing collector lanes parallel to the expressway and improving the interchanges at Shepherd and Glendale-Milford.
One unique element of the project is the new Shepherd Lane interchange, which will feature a three-quarters Tight Urban Diamond Interchange (TUDI) design. This type of interchange contains closely-spaced ramp intersections (typically within 250 to 400 feet of each other) with side-by-side left-turn lanes on the minor highway extending beyond the first ramp intersection. Special signal phasing facilitates the queuing of vehicles outside the ramp intersections and curtails the queuing of vehicles between the ramp intersections. At Shepherd Lane, the TUDI configuration has been customized so that the northbound exit ramp aligns with the existing GE gated entrance.
Plans also call for the construction of a local road to connect Shepherd and Glendale-Milford to the General Electric (GE) Aviation facility at Neumann Way, which will include a decoratively-lit shared-use path. This new alignment will accommodate two-way traffic and provide direct access from southbound I-75 to northbound I-75, Cunningham notes.
ODOT awarded a $97 million contract for Phases 1 and 2 to John R. Jurgensen Company (JRJC), a family-owned operation based in Sharonville, Ohio. JRJC, along with ODOT project engineers Cory Carfora and Chris Casson, are expected to wrap up work on this segment in June 2020.
During this three-year undertaking, construction crews will excavate an estimated 500,000 cubic yards of earth—which equates to about 150 Olympic-size swimming pools. Workers are also projected to construct 400,000 cubic yards of embankment, remove 390,000 square yards of pavement, lay 325,000 tons of asphalt and place 44,000 square yards of concrete pavement. To mitigate construction site noise, the team will utilize approximately 21,000 square feet of acoustics barrier.
Future Work on Thru the Valley
The next phase on the construction schedule is Phase 8, which is set to commence in 2020. Workers will add a fourth lane in each direction on I-75, from Glendale-Milford to the Kemper Road overpass, and increase capacity at the Sharon interchange.
Phases 3 and 4, anticipated to start in 2022, include improvements to Galbraith Road, reconstruction of I-75 between the Mill Creek bridge and Ronald Reagan Highway, replacement of a railroad bridge, and realignment of the exit ramp to Galbraith.
Phase 5 will likely begin in 2024. The scope of work involves adding a fourth lane to southbound I-75, from Shepherd to Galbraith, and constructing a collector-distributor road between Anthony Wayne Avenue and Galbraith.
During Phase 6, crews will add a fourth lane on northbound I-75 between Galbraith and Shepherd and build a ramp from westbound Ronald Reagan Highway to northbound I-75. This project segment is slated to start in 2027. The work originally planned for Phase 7 was absorbed into other project phases.
Collaborative Connections & Impactful Investments
As with any major highway improvement effort, traffic disruptions in the form of temporary lane closures and other restrictions are naturally part of the package. For ODOT, minimizing construction impacts is a high priority given the area’s daily average of 144,000 vehicles traveling to downtown or out-of-state destinations, or to the bustling GE campus in Evendale.
“During project development, GE was concerned about access into and out of its facility, which is located on the east side of I-75. There were several partnering meetings held between ODOT and GE to work through access issues to minimize them as much as possible,” Cunningham says, adding that this collaboration continued when finalizing traffic management plans for the redesign of Neumann Way.
This responsiveness to the needs of local businesses and citizens demonstrates ODOT’s dedication to work harmoniously with all who benefit from the state’s massive transportation network. Since 2011, ODOT has invested $16.4 billion into nearly 8,000 construction projects to preserve existing roads and bridges, enhance capacity and improve safety. This year, the state agency is dedicating $2.35 billion toward 959 projects—including work on 5,645 miles of pavement and 1,040 bridges.
The state’s Transportation Review Advisory Council and ODOT’s bridge and pavement programs are funding the Thru the Valley project, which is estimated to cost between $500 million and $600 million. Transportation planners anticipate all construction will be completed by 2030.
Some Estimated Materials Quantities
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