What to know about KY’s three major infrastructure projects

Published 3:49 pm Tuesday, August 22, 2023

As the nation’s infrastructure ages, Kentucky is taking on three major projects to revitalize its key transportation connectors — the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor project, the Mountain Parkway expansion and the 1-69 Ohio River Crossing.

These projects have become a common refrain from Gov. Andy Beshear, who has highlighted modernizing infrastructure as one of his key accomplishments during his time in office.

“These are the three largest mega projects in Kentucky and they are all moving forward,” Beshear said at a recent Team Kentucky update. “People said that these projects were impossible, they worked on them for decades and we are getting them done.”

But what are these projects all about? How much do they cost? How long will it take to complete them? And how will they help Kentuckians?

Project 1: The Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project

When the Brent Spence Bridge was built between northern Kentucky and Ohio in 1963, it was designed to handle a 80,000 vehicle-a-day capacity.

Now, it carries over double that. The bridge’s three lanes in each direction are no longer able to keep traffic flowing without delays and congestion.

The Brent Spence Bridge is a key part of a highway network ranging from Canada to Florida that carries over $2 billion worth of freight every day and $700 billion a year, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

That amounts to approximately 3% of the United States’ GDP.

A renovation has been needed for years, but it wasn’t until December 2022 that a plan was finally announced.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine joined Beshear to announce $1.64 billion in federal funding for the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project. The entire project is expected to cost $3.6 billion.

The project has several parts. First, the original Brent Spence Bridge will be improved with replacement of bridge decks, spot repairs of the steel structure where needed and re-striped decks. The speed limit will drop to 45 mph.

Second, Kentucky will widen and improve five miles of interstates 71 and 75 from the Dixie Highway interchange to the Ohio River to facilitate easier highway navigation. This will include creating a better local roadway network to facilitate safer and smoother travel from local roads to the highway.

Third, a new, five-lane 1-71/75 companion bridge will be built to carry interstate traffic. The original Brent Spence Bridge will be for local traffic only, while the companion bridge will be dedicated to people and freight traveling longer distances.

The goal of the changes is to make travel safer and more efficient.

“It’s going to bring jobs, it’s going to bring opportunity it’s going to transform travel in the region,” Beshear said. “We’re getting a project done that’s been dreamed about for decades and we’re getting it done without tolls.”

In early august the design-build team was chosen, and the project is currently working through environmental surveys.

The companion bridge is expected to be completed in 2029, followed by the entire corridor in 2030.

Project 2: The Mountain Parkway Expansion Project

Eastern Kentucky’s Mountain Parkway was one of the state’s first high-speed routes outside of the interstate highway system.

It originally ran 75 miles from Winchester to Salyersville, including a four-lane, 46-mile section between Winchester and Campton.

Since 2014, the Kentucky Department of Transportation has been overseeing a parkway expansion.

The completed Mountain Parkway will extend 13 miles beyond Salyersville to U.S. 23, near Prestonsburg, and widen the entire roadway to four lanes.

It’s part of a broader effort to revitalize Eastern Kentucky by closing the transportation gap, which will likely strengthen the economy and subsequently improve quality of life.

The modern roads will facilitate commerce, travel and tourism between rural Kentucky and the rest of the Commonwealth. Additional measures like updated interchanges will enhance the parkway’s safety.

Construction began in 2015 under former Gov. Steve Beshear. By 2022, 70% of the project was completed or underway.

This year, Gov. Andy Beshear announced the lead design-build contractor for the final 13-mile section from Salyersville to Prestonsburg.

A mix of state and federal road fund dollars have supported the parkway expansion, including $24 million and $55 million federal grants for two of the project’s six sections.

The project completion date will depend upon further availability of state and federal funding, according to the project website.

Project 3: The 1-69 Ohio River Crossing

The final project involves constructing a bridge between Henderson and Evansville, Indiana.

The three-section project will provide interstate connectivity across the Ohio River to improve safety and traffic flow.

The first section adds six miles of interstate 69 in Henderson, builds nine new bridges and rehabilitates seven existing ones, reconstructs the KY351 interchange and builds several new ones with US 41 and US 60.

It broke ground in June 2022 and is scheduled for completion in 2025.

The second section involves the bridge itself, which will connect Henderson’s US 60 to Evansville’s 1-69. This section’s design and procurement stage will begin in 2025, and construction will run from 2027 to 2031.

Both Indiana and Kentucky are working to find quicker timelines.

The third section is construction of the bridge approach in Indiana, which involves several embankments sections. The Indiana Department of Transportation will oversee its progress from 2023 to 2026.

The entire project is estimated to cost about $1.27 billion. In 2020, the Kentucky legislature approved the first chunk of funds — $227 million through 2026.

Tolls and a combination of state and federal funds will finance the second section.

Mayor Steve Austin said at the groundbreaking in 2022 that the project would hold a “prominent spot” in Henderson’s history.

“We’ll have a safer way for our citizens to cross the Ohio River, a faster way to move goods and a better connection for our communities,” he said.

An overview of the three-part Ohio River Crossing project, to be completed in 2031.