Project History

Thoughts From Hamilton Historian Jim Blount
For more than 100 years, there have been periodic campaigns to resolve the conflict of trains and vehicles where Central Avenue crosses what is now a busy mainline carrying both CSX and Norfolk Southern rail traffic. On the west side of the crossing is the complicated northbound merging intersection of Central and Pleasant avenues.

Present plans are centered on an overpass that would connect Central, East Avenue and Grand Blvd. east of the tracks, with Central and Pleasant west of the railroad. An element not in previous plans is an extension west to University Boulevard (formerly Peck) and Knightsbridge Drive.

Unlike several previous attempts to correct the crossing, it now is also vital for economic reasons. An overpass or underpass could mean new jobs and retaining existing ones in the city. It would improve access to 60+ acres of undeveloped land - along University Blvd., for example - and eliminate travel time and costs for existing businesses and industries. The potential economic benefits would extend in all directions beyond the antiquated east-west crossing.

Trucks aren’t supposed to use the angular crossing with a tricky intersection on its west side. Signs on both sides of the traffic obstacle declare “No Through Trucks.” A trucker going east to west, or the opposite direction, must detour north or south - a maneuver that wastes fuel and drivers’ productive time. That's also a deterrent to development.

The 4 tracks at Central Avenue - one of 34 at-grade rail crossings in Hamilton - are bypassed by many drivers to avoid delays caused by the numerous long freight trains passing through the city. Drivers have opted to use the High Street underpass, contributing to the high traffic volume and slow movement on that east-west thoroughfare.


South Hamilton crossing is on a main line of 2 busy railroads - CSX and Norfolk Southern. The High Street underpass - except for a narrow, inadequate 1-lane underpass at Corwin Avenue - is the only unimpeded crossing on the rail line that divides the city.

One or more trains stopped for any reason poses problems for police, fire and paramedic personnel and equipment called to an emergency. When forced to go around blocked crossings, the detour could be at least 3 miles and, on a busy weekday, add a minimum of 10 minutes to response time.

Past Plans
Over the decades, there have been numerous plans for an underpass or overpass - all killed by a lack of money, changing priorities and faltering public support.

Although the site of frequent accidents for 40 years, public concern increased in the 1890s with industrial and residential development in East Hamilton and Lindenwald. The city’s steady industrial growth also led to more rail activity, including around-the-clock switching operations in yards north and south of the crossing.

The first effort to improve the crossing was in 1911 after 12 people had died in crossing accidents the previous year. That campaign, like later ones, lost momentum. After the 1913 flood, the city priority was rebuilding infrastructure, not rail crossing safety.

Council was considering 6 alternatives in December 1916. Three underpass proposals were estimated at $88,000, $155,000 and $164,000 and 3 overpass plans at $193,000, $223,000 and $332,000. Variances in the width of roadway and sidewalks, building materials and roadway patterns accounted for the cost differences.

Hamilton’s 1920 master plan urged combining the railroads - the Pennsylvania and the Baltimore & Ohio - south of the city and elevating the busy mainline tracks through the city, eliminating all grade crossings, except for local switching.

A 1929 underpass proposal - estimated at $150,000 - would have been eligible for some state funding because 2 state highways used the crossing. It was unveiled a few weeks before the stock market crash and the ensuing Great Depression.

Hopes revived after World War II, but cost estimates had jumped to $2.5 million for an underpass. At the same time, the railroad share dropped from 50 percent to 15 percent and the state was not obligated because state routes had shifted to other roads.

The last try was in November 1957 when Hamilton voters were presented 7 bond issues, totaling $10 million. One of them would have provided $2.5 million for a South Hamilton underpass. It was supported by only 23 percent of the voters - 4,176 out of 18,191.

After that setback, the city’s priority turned to the High Street underpass, a project that started in September 1981.