Cincinnati’s I-71/MLK Interchange: Improving Access, Building Economic Vitality
A Design-Build Solution
Building a new I-71 interchange in Cincinnati’s Uptown area had long been on the city’s wish list. The area is home to universities, major interstates, urban neighborhoods, two Level 1 trauma facilities and Cincinnati’s second-largest job center. But the freeway that ran through the area separated neighborhoods and limited access to the Uptown area, home to five of the city’s largest employers. Improving access was key to building the area’s economic vitality.
In 2014, the team of HDR and Kokosing Construction Company, Inc., won a design-build contract to construct the interchange. The complex project included the construction of four new entrance/exit ramps at a widened MLK Drive, reconstruction of 2 miles of I-71, and work on eight new or rehabilitated bridges.
Besides easing travel and improving mobility, the HDR team developed unique aesthetic features to transform the new interchange into a gateway that the area would be proud of. The finished project includes components that provide a cable-stayed bridge feel, aesthetic patterns on more than 4,000 linear feet of walls and aesthetic lighting and color choices that provide a one-of-a-kind look.
The challenge of fitting four new interchange ramps to provide access from I-71 to the Uptown area was solved with the geometric layout called a “combined tight and folded-diamond interchange.” This provided a smaller footprint and impacted less private property than traditional interchange types.
The work was completed over the next three construction seasons, and ultimately reduced travel times, improved wayfinding and promoted an economic resurgence in the area. The $81 million project opened up hundreds of acres of land to new development and is expected to help create up to 7,000 new full-time jobs.
Initial estimates of time saved with the new interchange at MLK shows the intended result — a reduction in travel time by up to 8 minutes for drivers destined for the Uptown area. Adding more and safer bus stops on MLK Drive, Reading Road and Gilbert Avenue and a 14-foot multi-use path have also greatly increased mobility for transit users and pedestrians.
The project was honored by the Ohio American Council of Engineering Companies with an Outstanding Achievement Award that has been advanced to national competition. Project Manager Jake Stremmel, P.E., led the effort for HDR and wrote about the project in the fall 2018 edition of Scanner, the magazine of the American Society of Highway Engineers.
About HDR's Transportation Experience
Our award-winning transportation practice is known for solving our clients' most complex mobility challenges across all modes of travel. We are helping with multi-billion-dollar programs ranging from managing the Council Bluffs, Iowa Interstate rehabilitation program and the San Diego Mid-Coast Corridor Transit project to designing the I-4 Ultimate P3 project in Florida and the new Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge in New York. In addition to planning and engineering, our experts help clients advance projects and programs across the infrastructure life cycle with strategic funding, economic analysis, public engagement, real estate services, program/project controls, risk management and operations and maintenance.