Safer 65 resolutions ask the state for action

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Editorial: March 13, 2011

ISSUE: Improvements to Interstate 65
Public should push the idea

From three county courthouses, judge-executives are calling for action to address Interstate 65 improvements as an urgent matter of public safety.

Visitors, guests and passers-by decry the discomfort and potential hazard of being squeezed from six driving lanes to four along the 38-mile stretch from Park City to Elizabethtown.

Local motorists, who regularly confront this hectic segment of I-65, talk of anxious moments, near misses and a sense of dread.

Fatal crashes along Kentucky’s final remaining four-lane segment of Interstate 65 is cause for concern among many. The elected leaders in Hardin, Hart and LaRue counties have respond with resolutions urgently calling for accelerated state action.

This call for making all of I-65 six lanes across Kentucky is asking for something seldom seen from Frankfort: New and creative thinking.

It’s not that the state is inactive or ignorant of the issues. The Transportation Cabinet is hamstrung by conflicting priorities, limited financial resources and regulatory requirements.

A $50 million annual state commitment on improving the road is significant spending. But the piecemeal approach that’s expanding two or three miles per year is not doing much for public safety and security. At the present rate, this task could take a quarter-century to complete.

That’s a long time to survive in the midst of a transportation funnel. Six lanes from the north and six lanes from the south feed into the big squeeze. At 70 mph or more, there’s little room for error. The tiniest mistake can result in horror.

Harry Berry, Terry Martin and Tommy Turner, backed by their respective Fiscal Courts, are asking the state to establish a Safer 65 Project Authority. It would have broader leeway to consider options like public-private partnerships that could deal with the job as one single undertaking.

One option floated has been bidding the project with a requirement that the construction contractor “carry the note.” In effect, this would result in the builder accepting an interest-free payment schedule from the state as part of the bid package.

Obviously that will diminish the number of potential bidders. While fairness concerns, minority contractors and state policy all must be carefully considered, getting this vital expansion completed within five years rather than 25 seems like an obvious goal to pursue.

If that’s not the correct solution, the Transportation Cabinet and the Beshear administration needs to find another one.

At least by establishing a Safer 65 Authority, more minds and more urgency can be focused on solutions.

Creative thinking, calculated risk and a little American ingenuity are needed.

It took loss of life followed by public pressure to get crossover barriers along this same stretch on interstate.
Unfortunately, the loss of life needed to illustrate this urgency already occurred last month near Glendale and last year around Munfordville. The judge-executives of Hardin, Hart and LaRue counties are trying to apply some pressure. The public needs to embrace and promote the Safer 65 idea and maybe Frankfort will get on board.