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Cincinnati's 84-86 mile (different sources provide different numbers) I-275 is the longest looped expressway in the United States. It is also the only loop to travel through three bordering states, with by my count 54 miles in Ohio, 26 miles in Kentucky, and three miles in Indiana.  It is at its closest point about five miles from downtown Cincinnati and 15 at its farthest.  It has seven interchanges with other major expressways and 30 local interchanges. Major bridges carry it twice over the Ohio River and a third bridge of note spans the Licking River. I-275 is multiplexed with I-74 for a distance of about two miles near Miamitown. There are also I-275's in Tampa, FL; Knoxville, TN; and Detroit, MI.

Construction began in 1958 (Rt. 4 to Rt. 42), and a few old 1950's style overpasses similar to I-75's can be seen here east of the I-75 interchange.  Otherwise, construction style is consistent, with few unusual interchanges or other quirks worth mentioning.   The I-275 interchange with I-71/75 in Kentucky is the only four-level interchange in the Cincinnati area and the only one that approaches the scale of the massive multi-level interchanges common in Los Angeles and Texas.  About half of the loop was originally built with six lanes, and several stretches have been widened from four to six, especially in the east.  The only remaining four lane stretches are in the still-rural western areas and a stretch of less than five miles just east of the Combs-Hehl Bridge.  Work on the first stretch to be widened to eight lanes, Winton Rd. to Rt. 42, is scheduled to begin in 2007.

Steady progress was made on the loop through the 1970's until its completion with the Carol C. Cropper Bridge  over the Ohio River and short segment in Indiana in 1979. The stretches through Ohio and Indiana were built through what was mostly farm land, and few people or businesses were displaced by it. A ten mile segment in Kentucky (miles 72-83) between I-71/75 and the Combs-Hehl Bridge is the hilliest stretch of expressway in the Cincinnati area, with several mile long hills ascending 5% grades. Work on this six-lane stretch began in 1971 and opened in 1976, requiring major rock cuts and high bridges. The Licking River bridge, for instance, is 1,500ft. long and 130ft. high -- dimensions comparable to the Ohio River bridges.  Between the Combs-Hehl Bridge and the I-471 interchange, four lane Alexandria Pike crosses, by my guess, 100ft. above I-275, preventing an interchange with this major road.  I-275 between the Cropper Bridge and I-71/75 in Kentucky is by contrast relatively flat and home to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.  The airport is reached by a four lane parkway that measures about a mile in length.

Looking downhill toward the Licking River crossing from the Taylor Mill Rd. overpass.
[Jake Mecklenborg July 31, 2005]

Traffic climbs a steep grade between KY 17 and Taylor Mill Rd.
[Jake Mecklenborg July 31, 2005]

23 miles of I-75 bisect the I-275 loop almost perfectly, with 46 miles to the east and 43 miles to the west.  By adding 15+ miles I-275 is not of much use as a bypass and relieves a negligible amount of through traffic from I-71, I-74, or I-75.  A symptom of I-275's failure as a bypass is the rest stop near the Ward's Corner interchange, which was abandoned in 1983 and has since become overgrown.  Very little traffic originates or is destined for the far western parts of the loop, and since this section is rarely used as a bypass, it is reasonable to assume that had only the sections near the radial expressways been built that an incomplete I-275 would have attracted a similar number of vehicles to today's complete loop.

No section of I-275 travels through an old neighborhood or town that predated the expressway, and virtually everything that can be seen today from the expressway was built after it. Northgate Mall, Forest Fair Mall, Tri-County Mall, and Eastgate Mall are located along its route, and the typical formula of strip shopping centers, gas stations, and fast food restaurants can be seen at most exits. several interchanges at the extreme west and east of the loop are still largely undeveloped.

I-275 at Ohio Rt. 747, just a mile from I-75.  Areas along I-275 near I-71 and I-75 such as this were the first to
be developed.  [Larry Stulz photo]

I-275 at the Cropper Bridge, illustrating the total lack of development (and lack of traffic) along the loop at
points far from the major radial expressways.  [Larry Stulz photo]

It is also worth mentioning that the expressway's official name, the "Donald H. Rolf Circle Freeway" is never used by locals, and that the terms "Circle Freeway", "Beltway", and "Loop", are almost never used either. The overhead signs reading "to Columbus/Dayton/Lexington/Cincinnat/Ohio/Kentucky/etc." are ignored when giving directions, and unlike Washington, D.C.'s I-495, for instance, nobody says "inner loop", "outer loop", "clockwise", or "counter-clockwise".

An observant reader sent this info along:
One factual correction: I-275 DOES indeed, pass through the City of Cincinnati limits. From the Sutton Road overpass at the Anderson Township border to the Ohio River, this stretch does indeed pass through (drive southbound past the New Richmond/US 52 interchange and down that grade you see a distinct Cincinnati - Corporation Limit
sign when you hit this bridge). Take it from someone who grew up on the East side. (Joseph Nicholson 8/3/01)

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Wider I-275 stretch starts in 2007

By Liz Oakes
Enquirer staff writer

FOREST PARK - Get ready for more orange barrels on Interstate 275.

State transportation officials plan to spend $117 million to widen part of the crowded northern beltway, with construction to begin in 2007.

The Ohio Department of Transportation said Tuesday it plans to add an extra lane both ways - and possibly sound-muffling walls - to a section of interstate from Winton Road to U.S. 42.

The aim is to ease congestion that has steadily grown over the past 10 years on the northern loop of the interstate, said ODOT spokesman Ron Moseby.

According to the transportation agency's most recent count in Hamilton County, in 2002, traffic on the seven-mile stretch jumped 12 percent in eight years to an average of more than 100,000 vehicles a day.

That's one of the highest traffic volumes in Greater Cincinnati, according to ODOT figures.

The two-year project may also include $1.3 million on 16-foot concrete sound barriers if the majority of people living along the highway in Forest Park and Springdale say they want them, Moseby said.

Among Forest Park and Springdale residents who responded to an ODOT survey this summer, just over 60 percent were in favor of installing the sound walls, according to Forest Park officials.

Forest Park City Manager Ray Hodges said the city also would like to see a new off-ramp from I-275 to relieve traffic tie-ups on Winton Road, lately worsened by shoppers bound for the newly renovated Cincinnati Mills mall.

If Forest Park and the mall can work out an arrangement, "we would be willing to accommodate that," Moseby said.


I-275 changed face of Northern Kentucky

The wind howled and snow covered the roads.

It was supposed to be one of the major events of the 1970s, but if it was going to happen it was going to happen someplace else. Few events have changed the nature of Northern Kentucky like the construction of Interstate 275. The expressway transformed small towns into bustling communities with row after row of subdivisions. It also shifted retail business centers from Covington and Newport to places like Erlanger and Florence.

The opening of most of I-275 in Northern Kentucky took place in 1977, twenty-five years ago.

Planning for I-275 dates to the 1950s, but actual construction began in April 1968. That's when the bridge piers began to take shape in the Ohio River to link Boone County and Indiana. The I-275 bridge would later be named after longtime Boone County Judge Carroll E. Cropper.

Along the way construction of the circle freeway would meet many obstacles, including people who did not want their homes and businesses torn down to make way for the freeway, people who did not want trees cut down for the project and shifting ground that made the massive interchange of I-275 and Interstate 75 in Erlanger a major headache. A state report said the four-level interchange was the only one of its kind in Kentucky. It cost $15 million to build.

The Northern Kentucky section of I-275 would open in sections. The last link in the Kenton County section - from Dixie Highway to Taylor Mill Road - was completed on Nov. 10, 1977.

The big event, however, was to be the official dedication of the western section of I-275. A press release sent out by the state said the dedication would be Dec. 6, 1977, on the yet unnamed Boone County bridge.

The state said the new roadway was expected to ease heavy congestion through downtown Cincinnati on I-75 and across the Brent Spence Bridge, which was handling an estimated 125,000 vehicles a day. Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce director Walter Dunlevy added that the outer belt would boost business and provide a growth corridor for Northern Kentucky.

The western half of the circle freeway would be 41 miles long and cost an estimated $200 million. The entire circle freeway route, including Northern Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, would be more than 84 miles long. The eastern Kentucky section, including the bridge over the Ohio River near Coney Island and most of Campbell County, was still under construction.

A Kentucky Post account on Dec. 3, 1977, said the gala opening planned for Dec. 6 would include the three governors, Julian Carroll of Kentucky, James Rhodes of Ohio and Otis Bowen of Indiana.

Another Post account on Dec. 3 noted that among the big winners with the opening of most of I-275 would be Thomas More College, which would have better access.

On the negative side, local police were concerned about underage drinking and driving because Northern Kentucky teens would have easier access to Ohio, where the drinking age at the time for 3.2 beer was 18. In Kentucky one had to be at least 21 years old to buy beer. Others voiced concerns about long-range planning to handle future development in the new areas.

The timing of the dedication could not have been worse.

Overnight it began to snow and, despite the best efforts of road crews, the highways could not be kept free of snow and ice. Driving anywhere was hazardous.

The official forecast from the state was for ''terrible'' weather so state and local officials had to scramble to find alternative plans for the dedication ceremonies. The final decision was to move all the ceremonies to the airport, where all three governors had planned to meet anyway that day for a lunch.

The front page of the Kentucky Post that day showed snow-covered roads and state road crews struggling to make visible the temporary signs that had been erected for the dedication ceremonies on the Boone County bridge.

By mid-morning more than four inches of snow had fallen and more was expected. Schools were closed throughout Northern Kentucky. Adding to the headaches was the fact the snow had followed a thunderstorm that flooded basements and sent creeks roaring down hills.

Because of the bad weather only Carroll and Rhodes were able to attend the airport ceremonies. The Indiana governor was snowed in at the Indianapolis airport. Among the activities was honoring the family of Buford ''Buck'' Brumbach. The 51-year-old Williamstown man had been resident engineer for the Northern Kentucky district but had died Nov. 20, 1977, of a heart attack.

As the ceremonies were ending, someone asked the two governors to travel to the bridge to cut the ribbon. But due to the weather, Gov. Rhodes instead suggested that Brumbach's widow, Bernice, cut the ceremonial ribbon right there, and she did.

Carroll called the dedication one of the most important construction-related events that he had ever participated in. Rhodes predicted an explosion of growth along the circle freeway route. He said I-275 would become an industrial belt second to none in the country with employment of at least 5,000 people. The governors noted that when I-275 was entirely completed, it would cost about $318 million.

<>That evening the weather even got worse. Temperatures dropped to 3 degrees below zero. That broke the record cold for that date, which had been 11 degrees in 1958. The next day the low again fell to 3 below. That again broke a record for Dec. 7, which had been 3 degrees above zero in 1885.

Roads remained treacherous as the cold made salt, sand and cinder of little help.

Again most schools were closed and Edgewood residents were without electrical power for part of the day. Latonia Race Course closed for the second day in a row.

A Kentucky Post editorial on Dec. 7, 1977, pointed out that technically it was still fall. The writer jokingly suggested a campaign to have the calendar changed to make all of December officially winter.

It was later decided to schedule another, smaller dedication ceremony for the new Carroll E. Cropper Bridge.

The remaining link of I-275 in Campbell County was completed on Dec. 19, 1979, when the bridge over the Ohio River at Coney Island was dedicated. It was named the Combs-Hehl Bridge after former governor Bert Combs and Campbell County Judge-Executive Lambert Hehl.

A final accounting said the circle freeway was 84.5 miles long. Of that 55.4 miles were in Ohio, 26 miles in Northern Kentucky and 3.1 miles in Indiana.

Interstate 275 had 36 interchanges - 26 in Ohio, nine in Northern Kentucky and one in Indiana. Since then more interchanges have been added, including Mineola Pike in Erlanger and Three Mile Road in Highland Heights.

The Ohio section of I-275 was named the Donald H. Rolf Circle Freeway in 1982. Kentucky and Indiana have not named their sections of the highway.

The study of Northern Kentucky history is an avocation of staff writer Jim Reis, who covers suburban Kenton County for The Kentucky Post.

Publication date: 07-08-02

What's in a freeway's name? Local sign points to a politician

Question: On Interstate 275, soon after you cross the Ohio River from Kentucky into Ohio, there's a sign that says, "Donald H. Rolf Circle Freeway." Who was he?

Answer: He's the fellow who had a big role in getting the outerbelt highway built around Cincinnati. In 1954, he was a newly appointed Hamilton County commissioner. A farmer wrote him to complain about traffic on Kemper Road. Rolf got the idea for a major freeway linking main highways leading into Cincinnati. Over the years, he continued to push for its construction. The 84.5-mile loop, which passes through Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, was completed in 1979. Only the Ohio portion is named for Rolf, who also served as a state representative and state senator. He died in 1982.

John Johnston

Due to the large number of photographs, I have divided them into two sections:
    1.  I-275 WEST of I-75   (miles 1-43)
    2.  I-275 EAST of I-75    (miles 43-88)

I-275's Ohio River bridges:
    1.  Combs-Hehl Bridge  (east side)
    2.  Carol C. Cropper Bridge  (west side)


[December 24, 2004 Jake Mecklenborg]


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