Federal funds jumpstart Kentucky 54 widening project

$5M stimulus could cue acquisition phase later this year

The state project to widen Kentucky 54 through one of Owensboro’s most densely populated commercial districts could be on track to begin sooner than expected.

According to Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Planner Barry House, $5 million in Federal Highway Administration funds have been earmarked for the right-of-way acquisition phase of the project, making it possible, he said, that the state could begin purchasing land along the route later this year.

The Owensboro-Daviess County Metropolitan Planning Organization adopted a Transportation Improvement Program amendment Tuesday, signaling that the total acquisition phase, expected to top out at upward of $15 million, could be spent within the 2018-20 biennium. According to the

state’s six-year road plan, $10.5 million was scheduled for the project next year, but MPO Coordinator Tom Lovett said conservative reallocation programs had shifted that number closer to $7 million.

But even a slice of federal funds aimed at the Kentucky 54 widening project reprioritizes it, House said.

“It federalizes the project, if that makes any sense,” he said. “Before, it was a state-only project, and now it has federal funds attached to it. That makes the funding that had been scheduled for that project more of a sure thing.”

As it is, the 5.6-mile improvement project would widen Kentucky 54 to six lanes with a raised barrier median and complete turn-lane access between U.S. 60 and Bold Forbes Way. The remaining portions of the project would widen a segment between Bold Forbes Way and Kentucky 1456 (Millers Mill Road) to five lanes with a center turn lane and a segment between Kentucky 1456 to Countryside Drive to a three-lane curb-and-gutter route. The rural portion of Kentucky 54 between Countryside Drive and Jack Hinton Road will widen paved shoulders, and dedicated left- and right-turn lanes will be provided strategically.

At least two bridges are slated for replacement under the MPO’s modified improvement plan and a shared-use path is proposed for the majority of Segments 1, 2 and 3 from U.S. 60 to Countryside Drive.

Officials have characterized the Kentucky 54 plan as a public safety project aimed at reducing congestion and improving mobility along a busy business corridor. Crash data analyzed from 2013 to February of this year indicated that 533 collisions occurred within the slated scope area, resulting in two fatalities and 135 injuries. Of them, more than 350 occurred in the busiest Segment 1 project portion.

When complete, likely before fiscal year 2024, the project is expected to have cost upward of $50 million, according to the state’s published road plan.

Mayor Tom Watson, who chair’s the region’s MPO, called Tuesday’s amendment and the $5 million federal stimulus a positive step in the right direction.

“This has been dragged out for so long,” he said. “I’ve said it before, but it takes a long time for things in government to get moving, but it’s very encouraging that we’ve got some federal government money headed our way. We’ve had a lot of help from Frankfort and (U.S. Department of Transportation) Sec. (Elaine) Chow.”

By Austin Ramsey, Messenger-Inquirer