Democratic candidate for governor Dennis Kucinich and running mate Tara L. Samples, with Hamilton County Commission President Tood Portune, at right, announce their plan for funding of a new Western Hill Viaduct. Photo provided
By Andy Juniewicz
Democratic candidate for governor Dennis Kucinich and running mate Tara L. Samples pledged during a February 8 visit to Cincinnati that they would make as their first capital improvement priority in the state the rebuilding of the Western Hills Viaduct, which is estimated to cost $330 million. The viaduct has been in steady deterioration, posing concerns for the tens of thousands of Cincinnati drivers and passengers every day.
They unveiled their plan at the viaduct at a news conference attended by Hamilton County Commission President Todd Portune. It was the first major infrastructure improvement project announced by the ticket of Kucinich, a former congressman, mayor of Cleveland and councilman, and Samples, a second-term Akron councilwoman with a record of community activism and leadership.
“This is a transportation and safety infrastructure issue,” Kucinich said. “Chunks of concrete have been falling off the deck of the bridge. No one in Hamilton County should have to worry about safe passage for themselves or their families over or under the viaduct. This is a project that should have been completed years ago. We will make it our top priority. We will get it done.”
Portune has identified the Western Hills Viaduct project as one of the county’s top concerns and has led efforts to amass funding resources to replace it. Cincinnati and Hamilton County have each pledged $35 million for the project, but have been waiting, to no avail, for state financial participation.
When asked where the money would come from to keep this promise, Kucinich said start-up money would come from tapping into the state’s $2 billion-plus “rainy day” fund and the rest from general obligation bonds.
He said his programmed spending for a four-year Western Hills Viaduct project would stay within the 5 percent debt service limitation established by Section 17 of Article VIII of the Ohio Constitution, as evidenced by the debt pay-down schedule included in the January 23, 2018, report of the director of the office of budget and management.
Kucinich pointed out that Hamilton County was not included in the 2017 Transportation Department’s $7.8 billion appropriation, and was specifically left out of the Ohio bridge transportation program. He said, once elected, his transportation budget would substitute general obligation bonds for the viaduct project with funds from a reconstituted Ohio bridge transportation project in later years, thus opening up more bonding authority.
“Cincinnati is one of the great commercial engines of Ohio. Hamilton County is a donor county to the state, paying more in state taxes than it receives in benefits from Ohio. Hamilton County taxpayers have paid more than their share. They need help, and Tara Samples and I intend to deliver on the Western Hills Viaduct as soon as we take office,” Kucinich said.
“This is a first step in our Ohio infrastructure repair program,” Kucinich said. “We intend to survey the entire state, identify additional projects, establish priorities, and secure necessary funding from a variety of sources.”
Kucinich and Samples said they intend to release additional statements concerning the greater Cincinnati area infrastructure issues in the next two weeks, including the $2.5 billion dollar replacement plan for the Brent-Spence Bridge over the Ohio River, which carries 160,000 cars a day. Later, they will announce plans to “put the brakes on rising sewer bills” which have gone up 400 percent in the past 10 years in the Cincinnati area.