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 SR 176 north. The southbound lanes of both freeways travel at-grade nearby. Photo by Steve Hanudel (06/18/06).
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, I-71/75 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, however the project remains in development as of 2017 with construction still uncertain as of 2020.
Within the Buckeye State, Interstate 71 turns east between the Ohio Riverfront and Downtown Cincinnati along Fort Washington Way before curving 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 (State Route 176) before ending at I-90 and I-490 and the Innerbelt.
Interstate 71 in Ohio is part of High Priority Corridor 78.
Interstate 71 largely follows U.S. 42 from Louisville to Cleveland. U.S. 25 and U.S. 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 to Orange.
Within Louisville, Kentucky, major improvements and upgrades were completed at the “Spaghetti Junction” (Kennedy Interchange) between I-64, I-65, and I-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 carries northbound traffic to Jeffersonville, Indiana, previously accommodating both directions of I-65 during reconstruction of the adjacent John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge for southbound traffic. The exchange at the south end of the crossing was redesigned to better connect the three Interstates. Work included extended ramps linking the bridges with Interstate 71 independent of the I-64 mainline. This eliminated weaving traffic patterns and conflict points. Construction commenced on the Downtown Crossing project in July 2013. Work ran through 2016.1