Top 10 transportation stories for 2015 and beyond

As winter slowly recedes in the Midwest and potholes reappear, can spring flowers be far behind? The weather is indeed warming, meaning road crews will soon multiply and the rush to complete transportation projects will be on.
Infrastructure is boring, as John Oliver confirmed last week on HBO. But it gets us from Point A to Point B and greases the wheels of our economy, whether we're on foot, on a bike, driving our own vehicle, letting someone else drive or using public transit. And all the while our supposedly solid infrastructure slowly succumbs to the ravages of time, weather and neglect.
Mayors are clamoring for federal help with local transportation projects, and John Cranley is dreaming of new funding for Cincinnati from possible legalized marijuana sales. He can only look at Denver to see the bonanza that legal pot has brought there. In the meantime, many worthwhile projects languish.
Here are 10 transportation stories we’re following that will impact Greater Cincinnati throughout 2015 and beyond.
Brent Spence Bridge
The poster child of “time, weather and neglect,” the Brent Spence is a vital link for the nation’s I-75 corridor and Cincinnati’s north/south traffic flow. Yet even with steps toward cooperation between Kentucky’s and Ohio’s governors and with the bridge sitting under the noses of Washington’s most powerful legislators, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, there is no plan for funding a new Brent Spence. The bridge project’s official Facebook and Twitter pages haven’t been updated in a year. Who breaks the stalemate, and when?
Streetcar vehicles arrive
Tracks will continue to be laid in the central business district this year, and actual streetcars will arrive in town to start testing the existing tracks and maintenance building in Over-the-Rhine. They’ll be a welcome sight after years of arguing, wrangling and construction fatigue, and we figure that, once people see them moving, there will be a flurry of even more development projects along the route.
Streetcar Phase 2 up the hill
Connecting the downtown basin with the University of Cincinnati and uptown jobs will be the real payoff for Cincinnati’s streetcar and has been part of the vision for years. But opponents cut funding, lopped off Phase 2 and then complained the streetcar “doesn’t go anywhere.” Putting together a plan this year to expand the tracks up the hill is critical to the streetcar’s long-term success.

Red Bike expansion

After a “soft opening” of sorts last fall, the bike rental program is ready to go full force in 2015. Expansion is expected to Northern Kentucky as well as Northside and other city neighborhoods.
I-75 construction
Drivers are finally seeing how 75 will operate around the Hopple and Mitchell exits, but the biggest mess of all is still to come — a complete rebuild of the 75/74 interchange between those exits. It’s expected to start this spring and take another three years to finish.
I-71 MLK interchange
Work is underway, with large mounds of dirt being piled up near Martin Luther King Boulevard. The city has made this project a top priority, with promises of job creation and expansion in surrounding neighborhoods of Avondale, Walnut Hills and Clifton. UC recently announced a $16-million research accelerator center not far from the interchange.
Intercity rail to Chicago
All Aboard Ohio, the advocacy group for passenger train service, is pushing hard to include a Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati leg in the growing vision for a high-speed Midwestern train system with Chicago as its hub. Indiana recently announced it would end its subsidized Chicago trains, but many moves are yet to come in this drawn-out process. A lot is riding on the high-speed train plans that are unfolding in California, Texas and Florida.
U.S. 32 & Eastern Corridor
The controversial project to better connect eastern suburbs in Hamilton and Clermont counties with downtown and each other has survived another attempt to kill it, this time in the state legislature, but faces a final decision soon about the project’s centerpiece, relocation of U.S. 32 in Newtown and Mariemont. If the relocation is stopped, state funds could be allocated to the Western Hills Viaduct and other local projects.
Western Hills Viaduct
Western Hills Viaduct

A critical link to the West Side, the viaduct is rated as one of the worst bridges in Ohio and in the nation. Will the city turn its focus to this project now that the I-71 MLK interchange is underway?
Oasis/Wasson trails
SORTA has finally come out in favor of devoting its unused rail right-of-way along the Ohio River to the proposed “Oasis Line” walking and biking trail from downtown to Lunken Airport. The railroad operating the adjacent track continues to fight the plan. Meanwhile, advocates for the “Wasson” walking/biking (and possibly light rail) trail through Evanston, Hyde Park and Mariemont have raised funds for a formal cost-benefit study at UC.
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Read more articles by John Fox.

John Fox is an experienced freelance writer and editor who served as managing editor of Soapbox from December 2014 to August 2016.