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OKI Wanna Know... East-West Roads In Northern Kentucky

Our feature OKI Wanna Know is a chance for you to ask the offbeat questions that don't usually merit headlines. Many questions so far have been about roads and transportation and this week's is no different. WVXU's Bill Rinehart answers a question about roads in Northern Kentucky.

Chris Golembiewski moved to Anderson Township from southeast Michigan, where she says everything is flat and cities are laid out in grids.

"When I moved here I studied maps looking for interesting routes through the labyrinth here," she says. "I noticed there are no east-west roads I could travel across in Northern Kentucky. I just wondered why."

The executive director of the Kenton County Public Library says there are east-west roads in Northern Kentucky. Dave Schroeder says they include Buttermilk Pike, which connects Villa Hills and Crescent Springs to Fort Mitchell.

"Another good example is what we call today Route 536. It connects southern mid-Boone County to mid-Kenton County and then by ferry into mid-Campbell County. It went by various names and we know that it goes back to at least the 1880s," he says.

The ferry he mentions was founded in 1807 at Visalia. It's since been replaced by a bridge.

I-275 does run east and west through Northern Kentucky, but let's stay back in the 19th century for now.

In the 1800s, Northern Kentucky was largely agricultural. The population centers were along the Ohio River because the river was used to move goods.

"If you think of the Greater Cincinnati area as a wheel - like a wagon wheel - the center of the wagon wheel is the urban core. So, Cincinnati, and the river cities. The spokes radiate out. In Ohio, they go north and east and west, and in Northern Kentucky, they go south and east and west."

Schroeder says in the 1920s, the suburbs started to grow south, away from the river.

"Fort Mitchell (and) Park Hills in Kenton county started taking off in the 1920s. The 1930s and the Depression and then (World War II) kind of brought much of that to a halt."

Once the war was over, Schroeder says returning GIs and their new families found a housing shortage. "The suburbs that had started in the 20s really expanded. So places in Kenton County like Edgewood, Crestview Hills, Erlanger, Elsmere, all those communities expanded enormously. That's when we start seeing major construction of infrastructure, including roads."

Laurie Risch, executive director of the Behringer-Crawford Museum, says the area's topography also plays a part in how roads are built.

"Boone County's kind of flattened out because of the glaciers. That's a great farming area. They're able to get there by river. But Campbell County's always been very hilly, which is still why it hasn't been fully developed from an industrial standpoint as even Kenton County. Kenton County has that balance, plus you've got the Licking River," she says.

The Licking flows north, toward the Ohio. Risch says that's important.

"If you're going to be building a road, when everything was done by hand, you want to take the path of least resistance." She says some roads may have been built following railroad tracks, which went north and south, connecting the area with Lexington and Louisville.

"Look at the expense. Even today, when you're talking about building into hillsides the expense that was involved, that's major. We didn't even get I-75 until the 60s."

Risch says I-275, the biggest east-west connection in Northern Kentucky today, wasn't finished until 1979.

Overall, she says the biggest factor in where roads are built is economic development.

Northern Kentucky could get another big east-west route south of I-275. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is studying the feasibility of an outer loop, which might cross from Pendleton County, through Grant, to Gallatin County.

Copyright 2021 91.7 WVXU. To see more, visit 91.7 WVXU.

Rinehart has been a radio reporter since 1994 with positions in markets like Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Sioux City, Iowa; Dayton, Ohio: and most recently as senior correspondent and anchor for Cincinnati’s WLW-AM.