Running along the Ohio River, northern Kentucky is working on a multi-city walking and biking path connecting six cities. This 11.5-mile path, known as the Riverfront Commons project, will connect Ludlow in the west and Ft. Thomas in the east and include Covington, Newport, Bellevue and Dayton.
This project will provide intersecting, uninterrupted pathways to all six Southbank cities and the attractions in each. Some of these attractions include crossing the Purple People Bridge to walk or bike the trails in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Licking River Greenway in northern Kentucky and Devou Park in Covington. The benefits of developing these areas include ecosystem restoration, riverside stabilization, economic development and recreation.
The Covington riverfront east and center portion of the project was set to have an economic impact of $76 million with 198 jobs created. These paths will connect Licking River to Madison Avenue. It will also connect Covington center and east to Covington west and downtown Covington. Work on this portion of the project helped to stabilize the shoreline along the Licking and Ohio rivers and divert debris. This portion also will protect utility access while allowing pedestrians and vehicles access to the river with walking paths, bike trails, driving lanes and a docking facility.
The Newport riverfront west section has a planned economic impact of $1 billion with 6,700 jobs created. These paths will connect Veterans Memorial Bridge to Taylor Southgate Bridge. A pedestrian bridge will connect to Covington. These paths will connect tourism, retail, entertainment, office and residential opportunities with the river and a docking facility will promote marine tourism and recreation. This section in Newport will also help to stabilize the shoreline along the Licking and Ohio rivers and enhance the existing waterfront park.
With an estimated economic impact of $178 million and 379 jobs created, the Newport Festival Park and Riverboat Row portion of the project will connect the Newport levee to Bellevue. This section will stabilize the shoreline along commercial and residentially developed riverfronts while also enhancing and protecting the sewer infrastructure. These pathways will also provide a link for pedestrians and bicyclists from nearby residences to entertainment, retail and office developments.
The Bellevue riverfront portion of the project will create approximately 427 jobs with an economic impact of $75 million. It will connect Newport Riverboat Row to Dayton’s riverfront. The shoreline along the residentially developed riverfront will be stabilized, and the sewer infrastructure enhanced and protected. Local residences will be connected via pedestrian and bike walkways to nearby retail, offices and entertainment.
Connecting Bellevue to Ft. Thomas, the Dayton riverfront portion of the project has an estimated economic impact of $300 million with 983 jobs created. This section will continue to protect and enhance sewer infrastructure and connect retail, office and residential development to the marina and river.
Covington Plaza is called the “crowning jewel” of the Riverfront Commons project by the city of Covington. Prus Construction was awarded the contract for the project in 2019. The ribbon cutting for the plaza took place on June 18. After being awarded the project, Jared McFaddin, Prus project manager, stated Covington was “looking for more of a park setting than a parking lot and roadway.”
Demolition immediately kicked off the project in September 2019, tearing down the parking lot and hardscapes. The next phase involved driving sheet pilings into the river’s edge — keeping the soil along the edge secure and from eroding away — and covering it with riprap. Since the amphitheater was built between two big landings along the river’s edge, it was important to ensure that the shoreline was secure so it did not end up in the river.
Underneath the suspension bridge, there is a small ramp allowing the public access to the river. While this is not a boat ramp, it is accessible for those wishing to kayak or canoe. There are also landing docks for the riverboat cruises along the shoreline.
Another unique feature of the Covington Plaza, according to McFaddin, is two compasses — one built into the traffic circle and the other at Madison Landing. These reflect on the area’s history with wayfinding, both with the Underground Railroad and Daniel Boone. Individuals will notice they appear slightly off-center when pointing toward Cincinnati, and this is on purpose. These compasses were designed and installed to face cardinal north, south, east and west, and will align with any compass.
The project lasted through two winters, and McFaddin admitted, “The most challenging thing on the project was definitely the river.”
Each year there were two to three months when the Ohio River would rise and flood, making it impossible to proceed with any work on the plaza project. Since the flood wall was the construction company’s primary access point to the project, it had to coordinate with Covington to protect the city from potential future flooding and to access the shoreline to work on the project. When the river would flood, sand and mud would also be brought onto the shore, causing the construction team to spend time cleaning up before moving forward with construction.
Another challenge during construction was getting the concrete to the site since heavy loads could not be brought across the suspension bridge. Therefore, it typically took longer for the driver to get through traffic to the site than it took to actually pour the concrete.
While Prus was originally contracted with the city to complete the project within a year, due to the flooding and weather issues, construction was finished in mid-May this year. Upon completion, McFaddin stated workers poured a total of 4,000 cubic yards of concrete, drove 1,400 feet of sheet pile between 20 and 30 feet into the ground and used 18 million pounds of stone as riprap along the river’s edge.
The Covington Plaza project had its ribbon cutting on June 18 and has hosted multiple events over the past months. The rest of the phases of the Riverfront Commons project are in variable stages of completion.