Deal reached on I-165 designation
State and federal transportation officials on Tuesday amended the William H. Natcher Parkway-I-165 conversion agreement in order to designate the highway stretching from Bowling Green to Owensboro an interstate before several interchange projects along it are completed.
The Messenger-Inquirer reported late last week that negotiations were underway to allow for interstate status before the project was fully complete. Without it, said Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 2 Chief Engineer Deneatra Henderson, the interstate designation could have been delayed.
But speaking at an impromptu press conference at the Owensboro Convention Center on Wednesday, KYTC Secretary Greg Thomas and Federal Highway Administration Division Administrator Thomas Nelson Jr. announced the amendment, saying the original agreement signed last year stipulated that all interstate-grade work on the Natcher had to be under construction or completed for I-165 shields -- or signs -- to go up.
"But in just listening to the discussion over the last few weeks, we understood the importance of expediting the interstate shielding for I-165," Nelson said. "So, Secretary Thomas and myself have revised the agreement to move the shielding up a little bit quicker. What we've done is modified the agreement to say that the (project) has to be under construction or included in the statewide transportation improvement plan (STIP). With that, it will make it a little bit quicker for us to get these I-165 interstate signs along the corridor."
KYTC officials said the $2 million-plus signage project will be let to bid after the state highway improvement plan is approved in Washington, meaning Owensboro could be officially connected to the federal interstate highway system by the end of next year. Shortly afterward, changes will be made with GPS software engineers and mapmakers, officials said.
All 50 U.S. states and commonwealths are required by the federal government to develop four-year STIPs that outline a staged, multiyear, statewide intermodal program of transportation projects, consistent with highway funding and planning processes.
While the majority of I-165 (formerly known as the I-65 Spur) conversion work began earlier this year, plans to rebuild interchanges at Kentucky 69 (Exit 50) in Ohio County, U.S. 231 (Exit 36) in Butler County and U.S. 231 (Exit 9) in Warren County were left off the two-year highway spending plan. Those outdated "cloverleaf" interchanges don't meet interstate standards, and, with no funding, and thereby construction, on the key interchanges in sight, it seemed the original Interstate Conversion Agreement would delay final interstate designation -- at least until the next General Assembly budgetary biennium.
This week's modification expedites the process but should have no major impact on driver safety along the 72-mile future interstate corridor, Thomas said. While the cloverleaf exits are outdated, he said, they pose no risk to drivers, as they currently meet minimum Kentucky parkway standards.
Exit 43 at the Western Kentucky Parkway would have been included among the three delayed interchange projects, but the KYTC submitted a change order to an ongoing pavement improvement project there to speed up the process there. Similar change orders for the remaining three interchanges will likely not be an option for the $41.1 million parkway improvement contract designed to bring overpasses, pavement and highway lighting up to par with federal standards, since state funding for those interchanges still isn't available.
Regardless, officials at Wednesday's announcement touted it as the last major hurdle between Owensboro and its first official interstate highway connectivity.
"This is a huge day for this community," said Kentucky Sen. Joe Bowen, an Owensboro Republican, "not just for Owensboro, but for our whole area around here. We ought to be proud as a community that, finally, this project is going to come to fruition. So, congratulations to everybody."
Former Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce Chair Wade Jenkins, who spoke Wednesday in place of absent Chairman Bart Darrell, said Daviess County officials remain committed to crucial transportation projects throughout the region. I-165, he said, is a positive first step toward improving reliable transportation infrastructure needs.
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Kentucky Press News Service
By Austin Ramsey