Jan. 25—Residents from Hamilton and neighboring communities were able to see the nearly dozen-and-a-half alternative plans for the North Hamilton Crossing project that would be years away from happening.
Officials with the city of Hamilton, the Ohio Department of Transportation, and the engineering firm Stantec were also available for attendees of Monday's open house meeting to have their individual questions and concerns addressed.
North Hamilton Crossing has been a necessary infrastructure improvement for "quite a while," said Hamilton Assistant Director of Engineering Allen Messer. "It has been anticipated for more than 20 years. In 2002, it was studied by the Butler County Transportation Improvement District, and it was added to the Butler County Thoroughfare Plan in 2007."
This matches Elaine Ohlinger's assessment when talking with the Journal-News on Monday. The resident on Mossy Grove in The Villas of Hamiton West said the city was "behind the times" in building the North Hamilton Crossing.
"They should have done this 25 or 30 years ago," she said, saying it was needed when Champion Mill was operating. She said the Black Street Bridge was backed up "all the time" then.
While she said she knows the bridge "has to go in" and believes the city is "going to whatever they want to do," she would suggest crossing the river at its narrowest spot without impacting farmland "because it's their livelihood."
With all the alternatives providing a negative impact, she said there's "no easy answer."
The city displayed all 16 alternative routes on easel-mounted poster boards, highlighting the pros and cons of each. With no easy way to create a new east-west roadway that crosses the Great Miami River, the goal, according to officials from the city, the Ohio Department of Transportation, and engineering firm Stantec, is to have the least amount of negative impact while enhancing the benefits of a new bridge.
Many of the alternatives affect something, whether it's a minor impact on the Butler County Fairgrounds in some alternatives or in the case of L.J. Smith Park ― home to the baseball fields where the late Joe Nuxhall played before being signed by the Cincinnati Reds in February 1944 ― where some scenarios would "bisect" the park.
Combs Park and Greenwood Cemetery are two other areas that could be impacted, depending on which route is chosen. Then some options could impact as few as 45 residents and as many as 65 residents, or could take a significant portion of the Bonham farm that's in both St. Clair and Fairfield townships.
But all 16 alternatives improve on the lack of sufficient river crossings, mobility and congestion on local roads, bike and pedestrian connectivity, according to officials. Total project costs range from $69 million to $89 million for one alternative to upwards of $148 million to $171 million for another alternative.
A preferred route among the alternatives is expected to be selected by late 2023 or early 2024, and at that point the North Hamilton Crossing would advance into the more detailed phases of design. Messer points out that the North Hamilton Crossing project would be built in phases, though the timing of those phases has yet to be determined.
"Phases involving the acquisition of homes and businesses are expected to go to construction five years or more after alignment selection is complete," he said. "This would allow time for full National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis, design, and right-of-way acquisition to be completed. Other elements might be completed earlier once environmental studies have been completed."
"We are also looking into the possibility of purchasing and rehabilitating vacant housing. The city is attempting to do everything possible to provide assistance beyond the minimum requirements of state and federal agencies." — Allen Messer, Hamilton Assistant Director of Engineering
Elizabeth Reiff, who will be paying her North Seventh Street home off this July, said it's not fair to her, or others in her predicament, to be forced to sell or accept a fair market value offer to build a bridge that crosses the Great Miami River in order to improve east-west traffic in the northern part of the city.
She doesn't want to move.
"Nobody asked me when they built Spooky Nook if I wanted to move my house because they wanted to build roadways. That's their problem," Reiff said. "I'm going to be 60, and I don't want to start over. I'm tired, I don't want to start over again. It's not fair to me."
Spooky Nook Sports at Champion Mill is a new mega-sports complex on B Street in Hamilton.
Reiff did say she would relocate only if they give her enough money to pay off another house.
According to the Ohio Constitution, just payments for properties acquired are required for transportation projects. Messer said professional appraisers and appraisal reviewers are hired to determine fair market value for homes needed for the project.
"A consultant who specializes in relocations for transportation projects will be assigned to help residents understand the benefits they are entitled to and find replacement housing for them," he said. "Relocation benefits include payments for relocation housing, rental assistance, moving cost reimbursements, mortgage rate increase, utility increases, reestablishment expenses, and advisory services."
Property owners are able to negotiate compensation and purchase prices, according to the Ohio Constitution, and there is no requirement for an owner to accept. The Ohio Department of Transportation has more information on this process.
Messer said residents, where properties would be needed for the project, would be assigned a relocation manager to help them through the property acquisition process, adding that "a displaced person cannot be required to move until 90 days after a comparable replacement dwelling is presented to them. The comparable replacement housing must be within the financial means of the displaced person."
One realistic option for those who want to remain in the neighborhood is a land swap.
Messer said Hamilton officials had begun discussions with Neighborhood Housing about building replacement housing on vacant city-owned lots within the North End Neighborhood.
"We are also looking into the possibility of purchasing and rehabilitating vacant housing," he said. "The city is attempting to do everything possible to provide assistance beyond the minimum requirements of state and federal agencies."
NORTH HAMILTON CROSSING QUESTIONS
Anyone who has questions may reach out to Hamilton Assistant Director of Engineering Allen Messer at 513-785-7286 or firstname.lastname@example.org. People should also call Messer if they need printed copies of the materials shared at Monday's open house meeting.
There will be additional public meetings and opportunities to ask questions about the project.
There is a virtual open house ― www.northhamiltoncrossing.org ― residents of Hamilton and neighboring communities can find information on the project, as well as provide comments and ask questions.