Cincinnati has completed a $146 million reconfiguration of Fort Washington Way in an effort to alleviate traffic, address highway safety issues and enhance the transportation network throughout the metropolitan region. As a side benefit, the 1.3-mile project has helped the city reclaim 14 acres of prime riverfront property and has accounted for $184 million worth of related infrastructure improvements.

The roadway reconfiguration was planned and implemented by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT); the city of Cincinnati; Hamilton County; the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority; and the Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI). Cincinnati provided the leadership in the implementation phase and managed the overall project.

"To the people of Cincinnati, the reconfiguration of Fort Washington Way is much more than just a highway reconstruction effort; it is a catalyst for urban renewal of the downtown area along the Ohio River," says Cincinnati City Manager John Shirey. "The project has always been seen as a key element in fulfilling the city's master plan for development to revitalize the under-used riverfront area, which includes two new stadiums and a new riverfront park."

Fort Washington Way (U.S. 50) was designed in 1947 to provide local access into Cincinnati's central business district. Completed in 1963, it was later incorporated into the Interstate Highway System as I-71. As U.S. 50 and I-71, Fort Washington Way connected I-471 and I-75 through Cincinnati, Covington and Newport. It also separated downtown Cincinnati from its riverfront.

Despite periodic upgrades, the highway became increasingly congested. By 1997 it was used by more than 130,000 cars every day, greatly exceeding its design capacity. Merge-and-weave components designed to accommodate local access created even more congestion, along with the attendant safety issues. Additionally, the highway created a barrier to pedestrians walking to parking and recreational destinations on the Ohio River.

The improvements expanded Fort Washington Way from four lanes to eight, eliminated exit and entrance ramps in favor of interchanges at each end, and shifted the highway north to reclaim the riverfront property. The eight lanes are depressed below grade, separating interstate traffic from local traffic. Five new bridges over the expressway tie the collector and distributor streets to the riverfront as well as to the city's central business district. Additionally, improvements to three local bridges helped reconnect Cincinnati's central business district with the central business districts of Covington and Newport across the Ohio River in Kentucky.

According to OKI Executive Director Jim Duane, the Fort Washington Way project was studied within the context of master planning for riverfront development along the Ohio River in Cincinnati and Kentucky. "Those efforts were closely coordinated to provide a seamless transportation network for the metropolitan area," he says.

Because of the importance of the reconfiguration project to the economy and transportation efficiency of the entire metropolitan region, the city realized a fast track approach was essential - a decision that was strongly supported in an extensive series of public meetings. The city and its consulting team prepared comprehensive urban design and civil engineering manuals prior to the start of the project.

The maintenance of traffic, access and construction staging plans was based on guidelines put forth in those documents. That, along with city street grid planning, utility relocation and traffic studies, helped minimize construction-related disruptions along the alignment and improved worker safety.

The techniques implemented to speed design and construction enabled Cincinnati and ODOT to complete the project within a short time period and within budget. Fort Washington Way was reopened in August, in conjunction with the opening of the new Paul Brown Stadium and the start of the Cincinnati Bengals' football season. Timely completion also cleared the way for construction of the Cincinnati Reds' new baseball park.

New York-based Parsons Brinckerhoff performed the project design with oversight from its urban design subconsultant, Cambridge, Mass.-based Chan, Krieger and Associates. An accelerated series of design guidance and review enabled Cincinnati to turn plans into contract documents in record time.