Interstate 71

Just prior to the northern end at the Tremont neighborhood in Cleveland, the northbound lanes of Interstate 71 form a double-deck freeway with the ending Ohio 176 north. The southbound lanes of both freeways travel at-grade nearby. Photo taken by Steve Hanudel (07/03/06).


Interstate 71 constitutes a two-state route from Louisville, Kentucky northeast to Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland in Ohio. I-71 has more miles to the east of Interstate 75 than it does to the west of I-75.

The route of I-71 through northern Kentucky takes the freeway through hilly terrain to the south of the Ohio River. Wide medians and steep hillsides are encountered along the route. One such stretch in Carroll County, south of the Kentucky River, is where a tragic bus crash occurred on May 14, 1988. 27 people died when a wrong way drunk driver collided with a church bus. Signs are posted at the site in each direction.

North of Walton, Interstates 71 and 75 combine through the south suburbs of Cincinnati through Florence, Erlanger and Fort Mitchell. The pair reach urban Covington and cross the Ohio River along the double decked Brent Spence cantilever Bridge. A replacement of the 1963-opened bridge is planned, with construction starting in 2017.

Within the Buckeye State, Interstate 71 turns east between the Ohio Riverfront and Downtown Cincinnati along Fort Washington Way before veering northward through Lytle Tunnel along a winding route to Norwood, Kenwood and Blue Ash. Leaving the Cincinnati suburbs, I-71 turns easterly again across a mixture of agricultural and forest land toward the Columbus metropolitan area.

Entering the suburbs of Columbus at Grove City, Interstate 71 curves northward to parallel the Scioto River ahead of Downtown. The freeway combines with I-70 across the river along the southern periphery of the central business district before resuming a northward course to the east of Downtown. This stretch is slated for improvements due to the weaving traffic patterns of the I-71 mainline. Interstate 71 otherwise continues north through the capital city to exit it near Worthington and Westerville.

Beyond Columbus, Interstate 71 again resumes with rural environs north to Berkshire where it bends northeast for the Cleveland area. Bypassing Mansfield to the east, I-71 traverses a swampy area by Charles Mill Lake ahead of Ashland. Remaining rural, the freeway extends northeast to meet the west end of I-76 near Westfield Center and south end of I-271 outside Medina.

The outer suburbs of Cleveland ensue along the northward drive by Brunswick and Strongsville, with I-71 passing by Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport (CLE) along an increasingly urban route at Brook Park. The final stretch of I-71 takes the route east from the airport area through west Cleveland and northern Brooklyn. The route overtakes the north end of the Jennings Freeway (Ohio 176) before ending at Interstates 90 and 490 and the Innerbelt.

High Priority Corridor

Interstate 71 in Ohio is part of High Priority Corridor 78.

Parallel/Historic U.S. Routes

Interstate 71 largely follows U.S. 42 from Louisville to Cleveland. U.S. 25 and 127 tie into the corridor where I-71 overlaps with I-75, and U.S. 22 parallels I-71 northeast from Cincinnati to Wilmington in Ohio. North from Wilmington, U.S. 62 accompanies the freeway corridor into Downtown Columbus, where U.S. 23 ties in and runs just west of I-71 through to Orange.

Planned Improvements


Within Louisville, Kentucky, major improvements and upgrades are underway at the "Spaghetti Junction" (Kennedy Interchange) between Interstates 64, 65, and 71 as part of the larger Ohio River Bridge Project. The new Abraham Lincoln Bridge opened for Interstate 65 across the Ohio River on December 6, 2015. It will eventually carry northbound traffic to Jeffersonville, Indiana but currently does double duty as the original John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge is reconstructed for southbound traffic. The exchange at the south end of the crossing is redesigned to better connect the three Interstates. Work includes extended ramps connecting the bridges with Interstate 71 independent of the I-64 mainline. This eliminates weaving traffic patterns and conflict points. Construction commenced on the Downtown Crossing project in July 2013. Work runs through 2016.1


Within Columbus, the Ohio DOT previously proposed a pair of plans to deal with worsening congestion in Downtown. One option was to reroute Interstate 70 south of its current alignment between Exit 98/U.S. 42 and near Milepost 106. In this plan, Interstate 70 would take a new alignment at Exit 98, connecting to Interstate 71 and Ohio 104 south of Downtown and southeast of Cooper Stadium. From there, I-70 would take over Ohio 104, and a new connection would be constructed in the vicinity of U.S. 33 (Exit 105) that would link the new I-70 to the existing I-70. In exchange, the existing route of Interstate 70 between Exits 98 and 105A, including the notorious interchange with I-71, would be replaced with a 35 mph boulevard.

Another option, presented in November 2003, proposed separating through traffic on Interstates 70/71 from Downtown-bound traffic. According to the Columbus Dispatch article, "the plan would eliminate highway lane changes by dedicating three lanes of traffic to I-70, two lanes to I-71 and creating collector distributor streets above the highway for motorists getting to and from two sets of Downtown ramps."

As the study progressed between 2002 and 2004, various options were considered, eliminated or adopted for further consideration. According to the I-70/I-71 South Innerbelt Corridor Study, construction of one of three possible alternatives (involving the location and layout of the collector distributor lanes) would begin in 2008 and end in late 2010. Design of the project began in 2005.2

Now named the Columbus Crossroads project, work to unravel the weave of Interstates 70 and 71 is included in the larger $1.1 billion umbrella of projects that included rebuilding the junction between I-71 and Interstate 670 to the north. The I-670 project (Phase 1) was completed in November 2013 as were subsections of Phase 2 including the Africentric School retaining wall, the Mound Street Connector and the 18th Street Bridge. The remainder of Phase 2, including work at the east junction between I-70 and 71 (Project 2D - East Interchange), was scheduled to start in 2017, but a lack of funding in 2016 for the $166 million project pushed this back to 2018.3 Construction on Phase 4B (I-70/71 South Innerbelt) may commence in 2023 when funding is expected.


The Kentucky portion of Interstate 71 was built between November 1965 and July 1969.4

Interstate 71 in Ohio was established in 1962; the freeway was completed through the state by 1975. The route cosigned with Interstate 75 across the Brent Spence Bridge, a cantilever bridge with a double deck linking Covington, Kentucky with Downtown Cincinnati. The two Interstates partition at the north end of the span, with I-71 joining U.S. 50 east across the trenched freeway of Fort Washington Way.

Fort Washington Way was incorporated in the 1940s Metropolitan Master Plan for Cincinnati and constructed from 1959 to July 1961.6 The below grade freeway was designed with split roadways, a number of left-hand ramps and curved portions along I-71 southbound. The city of Cincinnati outlined Fort Washington Way 2000 to rebuild the freeway and incorporated the project as part of new plan for the Cincinnati Riverfront {Renaissance on the River). The city commissioned the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) to conduct a sub-corridor analysis for Fort Washington Way in 1995. The analysis was underway in January 1996, and a plan for reconstructing Fort Washington Way was produced by OKI the following year. Design contracts were let by September 1997, with the state of Ohio committing $80 million in project funding the next month.7

Reconstruction of Fort Washington Way commenced on July 2, 1998, with the first section of new roadway opened in October 1999. The remainder of the freeway was completed and opened to traffic in August 2000. A formal dedication for the project took place on December 20, 2000, while final paving work for the $313 million project continued until June 2001.8 The resulting work realigned the mainline so that both roadways of I-71 ran side by side and eliminated all left-hand ramps. 27 new bridges were constructed along with new ramps from the Brent Spence Bridge east to 2nd Street. Work reconstructed the Third Street Viaduct and 3rd Street along I-71 into a landscaped boulevard. 2nd Street was also built as a landscaped boulevard along the south side of Fort Washington Way.7

Within Columbus, Interstate 71 originally included portions of present-day Interstate 670 north of Downtown and the Ohio 315 freeway west of Downtown. That dual configuration between that alignment and the route along I-70 and east of Downtown was removed in 1976.5

Northward in Cleveland, early Interstate proposals extended Interstate 71 along the Innerbelt Freeway to Ohio 2 (Cleveland Memorial Shoreway), which was the original route slated for Interstate 90. I-90 was proposed to run north along the unconstructed Parma Freeway from the Northwest Freeway at West 65th Street to Cleveland Memorial Shoreway at the 49th Street interchange. The Shoreway would then take I-90 east by Downtown to the current Dead Man's Curve where the Innerbelt Freeway and Ohio 2 meet today. The cancellation of the Parma freeway led to the realignment of I-90 east onto the Innerbelt Freeway over what was previously proposed as an alignment of I-80N and later I-290. This alignment appears on the 1961 Ohio Official Highway map and on the following Cleveland city map from 1966:

Highway Guides

Southern Terminus - Interstates 64/65 - Louisville, Kentucky
Perspective from Interstate 71 south
The close proximity of the southern terminus to Interstate 65 allows for an independent ramp from Interstate 71 of Interstate 64 for Interstate 65. This photograph is taken within the final mile of the Interstate. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/26/03).
The downtown Louisville skyline comes into view as Interstate 71 prepares to split for ramps to Interstate 64 and 65. Interstate 64 enters the terminus interchange from the southeast, paralleling the Ohio River as it travels through downtown en route to New Albany, Indiana. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/26/03).
A pair of end Interstate 71 shields are posted just before the freeway partition into Exits 1A and 1B. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/26/03).
The other end shield posted across the travel lanes of Interstate 71. Milepost 0.2 is also posted at this location. Downtown Louisville is two miles to the west via Interstate 64 at this point. Photo taken by H.B. Elkins (5/99).
The split of Exits 1A and 1B. Two lanes are allocated for Interstate 65. Exit 1A departs for Interstate 64 westbound to New Albany, Evansville, and Saint Louis. There is no access to Interstate 64 eastbound due to the orientation of the highway with regards to Interstate 71. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/26/03).
Perspective from Interstate 64 east
Traveling east on an elevated viaduct adjacent to the Ohio River, eastbound Interstate 64 approaches the junction with Interstate 65 and Interstate 71. Photo taken by Steve Hanudel (08/19/05).
The left two lanes exit to Interstate 65, while the right two lanes continue east on Interstate 64 to north Interstate 71. Photo taken by Steve Hanudel (08/19/05).
Interstate 65 splits off from eastbound Interstate 64 here. Use Interstate 65 north to Indianapolis and south to Nashville. Photo taken by Steve Hanudel (08/19/05).
Signage for the split between Interstate 64 east and Interstate 71 immediately follows the ramp to Interstate 65. Photo taken by Steve Hanudel (08/19/05).
Eastbound Interstate 64 reaches Exit 6, Interstate 71 north to Cincinnati. Interstate 64 continues east to Lexington. Photo taken by Steve Hanudel (08/19/05).
Perspective from Interstate 65 south
Southbound Interstate 65 in Clarksville, Indiana. The one mile guide sign for Interstate 64 and the southern terminus of Interstate 71 is posted. The interchange with these freeways is located at the south end of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge over the Ohio River. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/26/03).
Crossing over the Ohio River on Interstate 65 south. The interchange with Interstates 64/71 north is posted as Exit 137. No exit tabs however, are displayed in Indiana of that designation. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/26/03).
Caution sign for the Interstate 64/71 north off-ramp to Interstate 65 southbound motorists. The interchange is sandwiched between downtown Louisville and the Ohio River. The tight quarters and independent ramps to Interstate 64 and 71 north delineate slower speeds. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/26/03).
The Kentucky/Indiana state line occurs on the northern banks of the Ohio River. This photo shows the southbound welcome sign and exit-only Exit 137 overhead for Interstates 64/71. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/26/03).
Midway across the John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge is another set of guide signs for the pending Exit 137 junction. Control cities feature Lexington for Interstate 64 east and Cincinnati for Interstate 71 north. Both freeways overlap with Interstate 75 at their respective control points. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/26/03).
Departing the John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge into Louisville, Kentucky, Interstate 65 southbound motorists are quickly faced with the Exit 137 departure of Interstate 64 and Interstate 71 north. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/26/03).
One lane is allocated for Interstate 64 west and Interstate 64 east/Interstate 71 north. The skyline of Louisville comes into view to the right. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/26/03).
Continuing on the ramp to Interstate 64 east and Interstate 71 south is this sign bridge. These ramps are independent of the Interstate 64 mainline and are actually located within the median of the east and westbound travel lanes. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/26/03).
Interstate 71 northbound begins as traffic branches away from Interstate 64 east. The northbound control city of Cincinnati is 97 miles to the northeast. Lexington is situated 110 miles to the east. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (05/26/03).
Perspective from Interstate 65 north
The first indication of the junction with Interstate 71 as seen on northbound Interstate 65 is at the Exit 136C off-ramp to Muhammad Ali Boulevard. Photo taken by Chris and Amber Lokken (04/07/08).
The left lanes continue north on Interstate 65 to New Albany and Indianapolis. The two right lanes prepare to depart to Interstate 64 and Interstate 71 north. Photo taken by Chris and Amber Lokken (04/07/08).
Northbound Interstate 65 reaches Exit 137, Interstate 64 west to St. Louis, Interstate 64 east to Lexington, and Interstate 71 north to Cincinnati. The bridge that carries Interstate 65 over the Ohio River is visible immediately after the off-ramp. Photo taken by Chris and Amber Lokken (04/07/08).
At the gore point for Exit 137, this view shows the transition ramp and split to Interstate 64 west and Interstate 64 east and Interstate 71 north. Photo taken by Chris and Amber Lokken (04/07/08).
Northern Terminus - Interstate 90 - Cleveland, Ohio
Historical Perspective from Interstate 71 north
A lengthy collector distributor roadway system runs along Interstate 71 through the interchanges with Fulton Road and U.S. 42 (Pearl Road) as the mainline travels 1.5 miles to the junction with Interstates 90 and 490 east. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April 2006).
Interstate 71 passes under U.S. 42 (Pearl Road) with six overall lanes. The northbound lanes separate in 0.75 miles for a c/d roadway to I-90 west and I-490 east and Exit 247A. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April 2006).
The c/d roadway from U.S. 42 returns as I-71 curves northeast one half mile to Exit 247A with West 14th Street, Clark Avenue and Steelyard Drive. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April 2006).
Interstate 71 north enters a wye interchange with Ohio 176 (Jennings Freeway). The left two lanes continue north to Interstate 90 east, while the right-hand lane departs next for a c/d roadway with the ending Jennings Freeway through to I-90 (Northwest Freeway) west and I-490 east. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April 2006).
Interstate 71 north travels on a viaduct directly over the northbound lanes of the Jennings Freeway through to Exit 247A and the c/d roadway for Interstates 90 and 490. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April 2006).
The c/d roadway partitions into ramps for Interstates 90 (Northwest Freeway) west to the Detroit-Shoreway and Cudell neighborhoods of west Cleveland and 490 east to Interstate 77 and North Broadway. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April 2006).
Continuing north, the I-71 mainline defaults onto I-90 (Innerbelt Freeway) east to Downtown. These button copy signs remained in service until at least 2009. Multi-year construction starting in 2011 replaced the Innerbelt viaduct over the Cuyahoga River. The work included revisions to ramps with U.S. 422 & Ohio 14, East 9th Street and Interstate 77 south. Photo taken by Steve Hanudel (06/18/06).
Historical Perspective from Interstate 90 west
Traveling across the 1959-built Innerbelt bridge over the Cuyahoga River, 0.75 miles north of the transition to Interstate 71. This span was replaced as part of the 2011-16 Innerbelt Project. Photo taken 05/25/02.
Crossing over the original Fairfield Avenue overpass, Interstate 90 carried four lanes south with no shoulders through to the four-level interchange with I-71. The Innerbelt Project shifted the westbound lanes for I-90 just to the west of this scene. Photo taken 05/25/02.
Interstate 71 southbound began its journey to the capital city of Columbus as Interstate 90 turned west en route to the suburbs of Lakewood and Rocky River. There is no access from I-90 west to Interstate 490 east at this junction. Photo taken 05/25/02.
Former button copy signs posted at the southbound beginning of Interstate 71. The Medina Freeway travels the highest level of the four-level interchange with I-90 west and I-490 east. I-71 otherwise extends the Innerbelt Freeway south to Ohio 176 (Jennings Freeway). Photo taken by Kevin Vance (01/02).
Perspective from Interstate 90 east
Passing through the split-diamond interchange (Exit 169) with West 41st and 44th Streets at Detroit-Shoreway, I-90 (Northwest Freeway) east is one mile ahead of Exits 170B for I-71 (Medina Freeway) south and 170C for I-490 east. Photo taken 09/30/10.
Exit 170 departs I-90 east next for U.S. 42 (West 25th Street) for the Ohio City Near West Side community. Exit 170B follows for both Interstate 71 (Medina Freeway) south toward Columbus and Ohio 176 (Jennings Freeway) south to Brooklyn Heights and Parma. Photo taken 09/30/10.
Interstate 90 turns north onto the Innerbelt Freeway in one half mile as Interstate 490 east begins. I-490 east provides the default movement from I-90 to I-77 as direct access from the Innerbelt to Interstate 77 south was removed in April 2011. Photo taken 09/30/10.
Exit 170B for Interstate 71 south departs from the ramp carrying Interstate 90 east from the Northwest Freeway to the Innerbelt Freeway. A four-level interchange joins the two freeways with I-490 and the Medina Freeway. Photo taken 09/30/10.
Interstate 490 extends east from the Northwest Freeway through Tremont to I-77 and the future Opportunity Corridor to Kinsman and University Circle. Photo taken 09/30/10.
Travelers turning south from I-90 east via Exit 170B form a distributor roadway separate from the Medina Freeway mainline through to the wye interchange (Exit 246) with Ohio 176. The Jennings Freeway stems south through Brooklyn Center and Old Brooklyn to connect Interstate 71 with 480. Photo taken 09/30/10.
Perspective from Interstate 490 west
Interstate 490 travels a short distance west from Interstate 77 at the North Broadway neighborhood to Interstates 71 south and 90 west at Tremont. There is no access to I-90 (Innerbelt) east in this direction. Photo taken 09/30/10.
Traffic partitions with two lanes leading to Interstate 90 (Northwest Freeway) west to Lorain and the Ohio Turnpike for Toledo and two lanes for Interstate 71 south to Ohio 176 (Jennings Freeway) for Parma and Columbus. Photo taken 09/30/10.
Interstate 490 runs along the north side of Tremont Park as it enters the four-level interchange with Interstate 71 (Medina Freeway) south. Photo taken 09/30/10.
Historic Northern Terminus - Interstate 90 and Ohio 2 - Cleveland, Ohio
Perspective from Interstate 90 east
Heading north along the Innerbelt Freeway toward Cleveland Memorial Shoreway (Ohio 2). This view looks at Interstate 90 north at the locally known "Dead Man's Curve", where a sharp ramp takes I-90 east onto Ohio 2 toward Bratenhal. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April 2006).
A compact trumpet interchange sandwiches between a railroad line and Cleveland Burke Lakefront Airport (BKL). Several warning signs and a 35 MPH speed limit precede the nearly 90 degree turn of Interstate 90 east. A loop ramp also departs here for Ohio 2 (Cleveland Memorial Shoreway) west toward Lakewood. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April 2006).
Perspective from Ohio 2 (Cleveland Memorial Shoreway) east
Traveling east on Ohio 2, the freeway approached the trumpet interchange with Interstate 90. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April 2006).
Ohio 2 (Cleveland Memorial Shoreway) defaults onto Interstate 90 east toward Euclid as the Innerbelt Freeway takes I-90 west south to both Interstates 71 and 77. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April 2006).
Interstate 90 combines with Ohio 2 for 10.6 miles along the Lakeland Freeway to Euclid. I-90 west overtook the northernmost 3.5 miles of I-71. Photo taken by Tim Kubat (April 2006).


  1. Kentucky-Indiana Bridges
  2. "Plan takes I-70 out of Downtown." Columbus Dispatch, February 7, 2004.
  3. "Next Phase of Interstate 70/71 Construction Delayed Until 2018." Columbus Underground, April 12, 2016.
  4. - Interstate 71
  5. Route 71 - The Unofficial Ohio State Highways Web Site (John Simpson).
  6. "No Respect for Noble Roadway." Cincinnati Post, The (OH), January 26, 2004.
  7. "Fort Washington Way 2000." city of Cincinnati, online slide presentation. Accessed on September 26, 2016.
  8. "Final paving to begin on Ft. Washington Way." Cincinnati Post, The (OH), May 17, 2001.

Page Updated September 26, 2016.

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