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Dangerous I-64 ramp to be replaced this year

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Beshear OKs plan to build safer KY 55-I-64 merge lane

By Lisa King

Renovation may soon begin on an interstate ramp that one magistrate describes as “the most dangerous place in the county.

Magistrate Tony Carriss said he was glad to hear Rep. Brad Montell’s (R-Shelbyville) news that the merge lane at Exit 32 onto Interstate 64 eastbound has been included in this year’s state highway plan.

“It’s part of the budget; the governor, it all starts with him,” Montell said. “When he includes something in his plan, it’s a whole lot easier to keep it there than to have to find a way to come up with the funding to put a new project in.”

The dangers of trying to merge onto the interstate from the extremely short ramp, with its 295-foot merge lane, surfaced in 2009, when serious accidents began happening there and The Sentinel-Newsbegan raising questions about its design.

Transportation Cabinet officials had said at that time that a widening project slated for I-64 in that area would address the ramp’s shortcomings but that the project was years in the future. Then, after two people died in accidents there in 2010, officials began to consider speeding up that remodeling.

Transportation Cabinet Chief District Engineer Matt Bullock said last spring that the cabinet was prepared to take action if it  could.

“We’re prepared to construct next year, in 2012, assuming the General Assembly will give us the funding in the budget to do that,” he told the Shelby County Fiscal Court in April.

Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger said he is proud of Montell and state Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville) and former Sen. Gary Tapp, as well as Carriss, who serves on the fiscal court’s legislative committee, for not backing down and for working hard, pushing to get the project moved up.

“They did a phenomenal job at really taking that issue and going with it,” he said. “They identified the problem, and worked with state officials to come up with a very economical solution, and also a solution that would tie into the I-64 widening project.”

Rothenburger also had some good words to say about transportation officials.

“I think it speaks well of our transportation officials by taking all that into consideration,” he said, “by recognizing that we have an immediate problem that we have to address now.”

Carriss said the same.

“I really want to thank Matt Bullock because I have been on the phone with him multiple times, and I know he played a big role in getting this done,” he said.

Said Shelbyville Mayor Tom Hardesty:  “I want to thank District 5 for all they have done to get this accomplished.”

 

Structure of highway plan

Andrea Clifford, spokesperson for the Transportation Cabinet’s District 5, said that in the 2012-2018 recommended highway plan, there is a project listed as item No. 5-65.30 for I-64 to be widened from the welcome center to the KY 55 interchange (Mile Marker 28 to 32.3).

“This project has funds for utilities and construction,” she said. “The funding source description in the front of the highway plan states that SP1 denotes projects for which state funding is reasonably expected to be available over the period of the highway plan to 2018.

“Please keep in mind that this is the recommended highway plan from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to the General Assembly. The legislature may make changes to the plan prior to voting for approval.”

But Montell said he is very optimistic.

“It will be part of the sixty-four project, so they’re going to start with that, and I think they’re going to let that in May, so we could see this thing shaping up this year,” he said.

“So I’m pleased to be able to say that it looks like we’re finally going to get some relief on that ramp.”

Bullock said the governor has submitted the project for the highway plan but that General Assembly could change it if they see fit.

“They could pull some things out and put some other things in,” he said. “That’s the unknown variable at this point.”

He said he thinks Montell has good reason to be optimistic.

“It will be up to them [Montell and Hornback] to keep pushing for this in the General Assembly, and if he [Montell] thinks it’s going to happen, well, he is the one in the trenches every day and he knows better than I do,” he said.

Montell said, “I think I can speak for Paul [Hornback] too, when I say that we will do everything in our power to keep the funding in place, and I can’t imagine, at this point, that anybody will try to mess with it,” he said.

Bullock said that if the project is still in the plan when the session is over, it will be a go.

“We are prepared to have that first section of I-64 widening ready to be let at the end of April, assuming that nothing happens to the funding.”

Bullock said that typically, interstate projects are federally funded, and that was the original intent for this one as well, but it’s now in the state budget because Beshear felt it was important enough to fund with state money.

“We feel like it’s important enough to do this with whatever funds we can get,” he said.

 

The construction proposal

Bullock talked about how the ramp will be reconfigured to make it safer.

“The widening project will relocate that ramp, when it comes down in a curve and becomes parallel to the main roadway, that will come down closer into the KY 55 overpass there, and that will provide a longer acceleration merge lane and taper there to get onto the intestate.”

Bullock said he could not give a specific timeframe yet on how long the construction would take, but he speculates it could take up to two years, depending on the weather.

“It’s about the same length [of time] as the other two sixty-four projects; this one is about four point one three miles long, and the other two were four point four and four point five miles long, and the length of construction for both of those was about a year and a half to two years,” he said.

“We set them up for about a year and half, but they both had weather-related issues,” he said.

When asked why he has pushed so hard for the project, Bullock said, “When the dangers of the ramp were pointed out to us, we realized the importance of correcting it a timely fashion.”