Seven Freeways for Seven Hills: Cincinnati’s Long and Winding Highway History

Devising a comprehensive transportation system for a city like Cincinnati, Ohio is no easy feat.  As you can infer from the title, the city is home to seven major hills within the city limits, with some local experts arguing that there are considerably more than that.  And as anyone with a smidgen of highway planning and/or construction will tell you, building roads with hills or mountains in the vicinity can be way more costly and complex than building on flat land, not to mention the increased safety issues.   Complicating matters is the fact that the Cincinnati metro area overlaps with the state of Kentucky, so major transportation projects that benefit the area as a whole can require multiple levels of government involvement.  Further complicating matters is that much of the city, including the downtown business district, sits atop the Ohio River, which has been prone to major flooding throughout the city’s history.  One particular devastating flood occurred in early 1937, which left 100,000 residents of Cincinnati homeless.  As a result of these factors, Cincinnati’s transportation system is probably far more complicated, convoluted, and fascinating compared to many other cities in the United States.  Along with the many roads and freeways, whole networks of bridges, tunnels, and viaducts link the city’s challenging topography.

Cincinnati has had more than its share of “false starts” in its transportation history.  For fans of “abandoned Ohio”, the unfinished Cincinnati subway system is an exciting focal point.  Originally planned to connect downtown with the suburb of Norwood, construction on the line began but was then halted in the 1920s.  Since then the six stations have been sealed off from view from the general public, though they are still very much in existence.


Underground view of the Race Street Station.  Photo taken from

Then there’s the issue of air travel.  Cincinnati’s main international airport is not in the same county or even the same state, but across the river in Covington, Kentucky, hence the airport’s three-letter code “CVG”.  Until the 1940s, Lunken Airport, which was located on the city’s east side, was the main commercial flight operation.  That is, until the 1937 flood submerged the airport under 20 feet of water.  Even if the flood didn’t happen, the airport was constrained by foggy conditions and the surrounding hillside — in other words, no room for expansion.  Originally there were plans to build a new airport in the suburb of Blue Ash, but voters there rejected the idea.  Shrewd political leaders in the nearby flatlands of Boone County, Kentucky, however, were able to successfully lobby for the new airport, which opened for business in 1946.

And then, of course, there are the freeways.  Along with the fabled “seven hills”, Cincinnati has seven freeways running through its metro area as well: I-75, I-71, I-74,  I-275, I-471, State Route 126, and State Route 562.

Perhaps the most daunting aspect of Cincinnati’s highway system is the issue of safety, or lack thereof.  Journalist Erin Caproni points out that of the 350 most dangerous crash sites in the state of Ohio, over 50 of them are in the Cincinnati area alone.  Particularly problematic intersections include State Route 126 and I-71, Pfeiffer Road and I-71, and I-471 and I-71.  As if I-71 didn’t have enough problems in Cincinnati, local critics have also disliked the fact that the freeway cuts right through the central business district between Second and Third Streets in the downtown area, limiting pedestrian access to the riverfront.

Other freeways in Cincinnati have their own sets of issues.  Looking at local road maps, one can see that the major bypass, I-275, looks like a misshapen pinto bean.  From a purely logical perspective, however, I-275 is arguably not a particularly efficient bypass around the city.  Traveling north from Kentucky, one can take the western part of the bypass, which travels through the Kentucky suburbs, then wanders over into the state of Indiana before reaching Ohio, slowly meandering back to I-75 after 43 miles.  Taking the eastern route isn’t much shorter, at 41 miles.

Of course, if one doesn’t want to take the long journey of I-275, one can brave I-75 through the metro area itself, which in various parts is more like a roller coaster for motor vehicles.  One particularly infamous area, known as “Death Hill”, is a long downhill stretch of the freeway between Kyles Lane and the Brent Spence Bridge in Covington.  Known for its very high levels of accidents and fatalities, this segment of I-75 opened in 1962, though some might find it hard to believe that it would meet modern highway safety standards today.


Facing northbound on the long downhill slope of  I-75 in Covington.  Downtown Cincinnati is in the distant center background.

Then there’s State Route 126, otherwise known as the Ronald Reagan Cross-County Highway.  The Cross County has proven to be a political lightning rod for the Cincinnati area.  Originally conceived as a means to improve east-west travel in central Hamilton County, developers wanted to build the freeway as a means to relieve congestion on nearby Galbraith Road.  By the early 1960s, the first segment of the Cross County was complete, linking Galbraith with Montgomery Road, just to the east of I-71.  By the mid-1970s, another segment was completed between the west side of I-275 and Colerain Avenue.  It would be a whole 20 years before the two segments were finally linked together in 1997.  Even then, the Cross County remains incomplete to this day.  Residents of Indian Hill and Crosby Township successfully blocked the remaining segment from being completed, which would have connected Montgomery with the eastern side of I-275.


At the eastern terminus of the Ronald Reagan Cross County Highway, near Montgomery Road.

The Cross County was not the only expressway to fail to see completion in Cincinnati.  Just as local historians point out the existence of more than seven hills, so too were there more than the seven aforementioned freeways.  Three in particular hardly made it beyond the planning stages: the Colerain, the Taft, and Queen City freeways were all scrapped in their early stages.

Finding information on these scrapped freeways online isn’t easy, but reader David, a Cincinnati native, kindly sent me some relevant links.  According to the website, the Taft expressway was to have run along nearby William Howard Taft Road, with its western terminus at the I-75/Western Viaduct/Harrison Ave. interchange (Exit 2B), and its eastern terminus at Columbia Parkway (U.S. 50), most likely near Torrence Parkway, with additional interchanges at Ravine Street, Vine Street , I-71, Gilbert Avenue, Victory Parkway, and Woodburn Avenue.


Map of the proposed Taft freeway showing some of the proposed interchanges, including Vine Street and I-71.

Although there isn’t a whole lot of physical evidence to support the planned construction of the Taft, one tantalizing piece is the I-71/Taft Rd. interchange (Exit 3A).  The off-ramp on southbound I-71 is exceptionally long, and then widens to three lanes before reaching the first stoplight:



The Queen City expressway would have begun on the opposite side of the I-75/Western Viaduct interchange, traveling west and presumably running near Queen City Avenue and Cleves Warsaw Pike.  Proposed exits would have included Grand Avenue, Quebec Road, Queen City Avenue, Glenway Avenue, and Anderson Ferry Road.

53 Western Hills Viaduct - Google Maps

Facing west on the Western Hills Viaduct, near I-75.  This would have been the eastern terminus for the Queen City Freeway.

Finally, there was the proposed Colerain Expressway, which would have connected I-74 at the Colerain Avenue (U.S. 27) interchange with I-275 between Colerain and Hamilton Avenues, with interchanges at Compton Road, Galbraith Road, and North Bend Road.


Looking northwest at the Colerain/I-74 interchange.  Note the ramp stubs for the proposed  Colerain freeway.  Photo courtesy of


The following map would give you some sense of where all the freeways would have been located, lined in purple:



Well, that’s enough for our “Ohio Tour” for now.  Next, we will head out east to Pennsylvania and upstate New York.  Plenty more to discover there!


Additional sources:—b-C&sig=ACfU3U39nB02Z-CysukdUtTAD36MWYv6Ng&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiYv4mYit_pAhWEbc0KHXRTDekQ6AEwBHoECAsQAQ#v=onepage&q=cincinnati%20ohio%20state%20route%20126%20history&f=false

Not Quite Halfway There: Dayton, Ohio’s I-675 Bypass

Resuming from a long break, we continue down I-75, arriving in Dayton, Ohio, which is best-known for the Wright Brothers, who would pioneer a whole new mode of transportation for the 20th and 21st century.  Dayton proved to be no slouch either when it came to ground transportation, either.  According to Wikipedia, Dayton’s downtown road system is unlike most other Midwestern cities its size: the streets are very broad, with two to three lanes running in each direction, with ample space for pedestrians and cyclists.


View of South Main Street in downtown Dayton.

Dayton’s freeway system is also unlike its neighboring cities of Columbus, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis.  From a strictly logical standpoint, Dayton’s freeway network might have made more sense if it had been built like this:


Instead of looking like what it ended up with:


As you can see from the above map, Interstate 70, one of the longest east-west highways in the United States, misses the city of Dayton entirely, traversing its northern suburbs instead.  This might not have been unintentional, since I-70 in Ohio was built to replace traffic along U.S. Highway 40.

What’s really odd about Dayton is that up until the mid-1990s, there were hardly any freeways in the western part of the metro area.  Eastern Dayton, in contrast, had several expressways crossing its terrain, including U.S. Highway 35, Ohio State Route 4, and Ohio State Route 844 (a spur freeway that connects to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base), and I-675.  I-675 appears as a somewhat malformed semi-circle, connecting I-75 south of Dayton with I-70 near Springfield.

It might be helpful at this point to explain the rationale of three-digit interstates in the United States and why they are numbered the way they are.  As a general rule, three-digit interstate highways that begin with an odd number (like 1, 3, 5, and 7) are known as “spur” interstates — they connect the two-digit “parent” interstate with a city’s downtown or central business district (such as I-175, I-375, I-575, etc.)  In contrast, three-digit interstates that begin with an even number (2, 4, 6, and 8) are usually “by-pass” or “loop” interstates — going around a city, usually to avoid potentially heavier traffic within the central business area (like I-275, I-475, etc,) and re-connecting with the “parent” two-digit interstate at both ends.  Wikipedia has a helpful visual:








Not all three-digit interstates follow these rules, however, and I-675 in Dayton is one of them.  Of course, there’s a story behind all of this. So what happened?  First, let’s again go back to the planning stages that took place in the 1950s and 1960s.  For this particular article, I have to give enormous credit to the author at (  Although his website has not been updated in a very long time, and at one point he even voiced  his intention to take the site down, supportive fans and readers pleaded with him to leave it as it was, and because of that decision we still have access to a treasure trove of information about the  Dayton area.  Major credit is also due to user “Jeff” at the forums of, who also has a wealth of old city maps in his posts.

Before World War 2, Dayton, along with many other cities in the United States, was pre-occupied with how to alleviate heavy traffic and congestion in its downtown area.  Talk of creating a network of parkways was proposed as far back as the 1920s, but by the end of the war the discussion had shifted to building a network of higher-speed, limited-access freeways instead.  As we’ve seen before in places like Winnipeg, extensive research was conducted to study the traffic patterns of the city, and where the construction of such highways would provide the most benefit.


As you can see from the above map, traffic was particularly heavy along U.S. Highway 25 and Ohio State Route 4.  What gets interesting here is the debate Dayton had over where else freeways should be built.  By the late 1950s the city had decided on a “hub and spoke” network, with multiple freeways radiating from the downtown area:


Not long after the above plan had been proposed, however, that calls were made for Dayton to have a proper by-pass expressway around the downtown, and by 1962 plans were in place for Interstate 675, which would have connected to I-75 in Miami Township at its southern terminus, and then re-connecting with I-75 in Northridge at its northern terminus:


What then followed over the coming years proved to be a series of messy politics, as the author of Daytonology points out in his series of articles.  The original route for I-675 overlapped most of its length with the proposed Southeast Freeway.  While the Ohio Department of Transportation signed off on its approval for the plan, the Bureau of Public Roads (a precursor to the Federal Highway Administration) would not, citing the proposed I-675 as a “parallel expressway” — as a result, Dayton was unable to secure federal funding for the project.I6757

By 1965, the proposal for I-675 had evolved to its present day course, swinging to the eastern suburbs around Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the newly-built Wright State University Campus.  Real-estate speculators, it was believed, would also benefit from the altered route.  But again, the federal government would only pay for 50 percent of the funding for the new highway — it was up to the state of Ohio and local governments to come up with the rest of the money.  As a result, Dayton re-allocated funding that would have gone to freeway development on the western side of the metro area, and used it to complete I-675.  Although I-675 was originally slated for completion in 1975, further delays and controversies resulted in the highway not being finished until 1989.  The conflict reached a crescendo during 1979, when the Ohio Department of Transportation threatened to sue then-Transportation Secretary Neil Goldschmidt.  Goldschmidt had agreed only to fund construction of I-675 only between I-70 and U.S. Route 35.  The state government accused Goldschmidt of “a usurpation of the authority of local and state governments to determine the destiny of their highway system.”  However, Thomas Downs, who was then a planner for the Federal Highway Administration, cautioned the city of Dayton and the state of Ohio against taking legal action against the Transportation Secretary, arguing that the courts had sided with the federal government numerous times over similar incidents.

“All politics is local,” as the saying goes.  Maybe not, but Dayton’s long road with Interstate 675 is a prime example of how federal, state, and local politics collided with each other to make the United States highway system what it is today.


View of I-675 near Wright-Patterson AFB and Wright State University.

Additional Sources:,_Ohio

On the Waterfront: Toledo, Ohio’s Downtown Distributor Freeway

Traveling south on  I-75 from Detroit, we arrive a mere 60 miles away in the Midwestern city of Toledo, Ohio, which also happens to be the native home town of yours truly.  As a young person on the city’s west side, I remember feeling confused whenever I would look at maps of my neighborhood and see streets stop at the edge of Interstate 475, only to start up again on the other side of the expressway.  Hadn’t anyone ever thought to build bridges when these streets were built?  Of course, my memory only went back to about 1980 or so, and so I had to rely on my mother to help fill in the “missing history” that I didn’t know about.  My mom, who also grew up on the west side, told me the story of how, in the late 1960s, certain houses were painted with large “X”es on their front side in her neighborhood — these were the homes that were to be marked for demolition to make room for the new freeway.

While the boom of freeway construction in Toledo happened during the 1960s and 1970s, like many other American cities, plans for the area had been in consideration for many years.  Many thanks need to go to the author of for providing this info.  (for you native Toledoans out there, be sure to check out his site!  Lots of interesting history!)  The 1949 freeway plans looked quite a bit different from what was ultimately built:

toledo 1949map

For those of you who are familiar with the Toledo area, you can see the U.S. 25 Expressway (later I-75), was originally planned to cross the Maumee River just east of downtown Perrysburg, travel along the Anthony Wayne Trail as it approached downtown, and then skirt north of downtown  near the Buckeye Basin and Mulberry Park before turning north again towards Detroit.  The U.S. 20 Expressway (later I-80 and I-90) was re-routed south when the Ohio Turnpike opened in 1955, though the western portion in the city limits would later be re-designated as I-475.  The Cleveland Detroit Bypass (later I-280) was originally planned to run only from the area near Woodville Road to just north of downtown.

By the mid-1960s, plans had been altered to the point that the Toledo freeway system developed to its present day layout.  One issue remained to be decided: how to get commuters in and out of downtown more efficiently.  Rush-hour traffic would routinely jam the streets, and plans were discussed to build an additional expressway that would link I-75 with I-280 via downtown.  Several routes were considered:

toledo downtown distributor expressway-05

In 1964, the Toledo city council gave approval to construct the Downtown Distributor Freeway on the southernmost route, placing it along the Maumee River, with the designation of Ohio State Route 112.

toledo downtown distributor expressway-02

Plans were also discussed to add an additional spur to the Distributor, which would have allowed traffic on southbound I-75 to exit off directly on to the Anthony Wayne Bridge, thus providing easier access to the city’s east side:

toledo downtown distributor expressway-08


toledo downtown distributor expressway-09

An artistic rendering of the western portion of the Downtown Distributor Freeway, drawn up by the engineering firm Howard, Needles, Tammen, and Bergendoff.  The freeway was planned to be elevated between the I-75/Washington St. Interchange and Summit Street before descending to ground level.

In 1970, the Toledo Blade followed up with an endorsement of the planned freeway in its editorial page, after commenting favorably on the newly opened I-475:

“What [I-475] will demonstrate…is the need to expedite the planning and construction of the first phase of the downtown distributor.  This is the key link that will carry the heavy volume of traffic into the central business district…bogged down by indecision, changing plans, and disagreement over routes, this distributor is still a number of years away; meanwhile, thousands of drivers who will be using the expressway in the downtown area are simply going to have to move from and to it over narrow city streets that were never designed to handle the volume expected.”

Although there were still plans to construct the first phase of the Distributor (from I-75 to Summit Street) as late as 1972, discussion soon fell off the map.  The Distributor would likely have had multiple environmental impacts on the downtown area, including the removal of multiple housing projects and commercial businesses in its path, which also would have led to increased financial costs for the city.

Today, there is little evidence remaining of the planned Downtown Distributor.  The ramp stubs at I-75 at Washington Street, which would have marked the western end of the freeway, were apparently removed years ago.  The eastern end of the freeway would have intersected at the I-280/Summit Street Interchange, which was removed in 2007 when the Veterans’ Glass City Skyway Bridge opened to traffic — the upside being a newly re-constructed I-280 that was considerably safer to travel on.


View of the re-built I-280/Veterans’ Glass City Skyway from Summit Street.  The Craig Street Bridge, which carried traffic on the old I-280, is visible below the new bridge and is open to cyclists and pedestrians.

That might be the end of the story, but there is another interesting wrinkle:  later on in the 1970s, plans were devised to construct the Buckeye Basin Greenbelt Parkway, which would replicate some of the functionality of the original Downtown Distributor.  The original plan was for the parkway to connect downtown Toledo with the northeastern most area of the city, Point Place.  Construction began in 1996.  Political controversy over the potential of destroyed environmentally-sensitive wetland areas eventually put a halt to the Greenbelt Parkway as well, which currently ends at Galena Street, just east of I-280.  As was the case with Detroit, even automobile-friendly cities like Toledo can decide that they’ve reached their limits when it comes to new highway construction.


Heading towards downtown Toledo on the Greenbelt Parkway, near Mulberry Park.

Additional Sources: