Riverport lands $11.5M federal grant

Money will be used to widen Industrial Road

The Owensboro Riverport Authority on Thursday was awarded an $11.5 million federal grant that will be used to help fund a widening project on Industrial Road (Kentucky 331) between the U.S. 60 and Rinaldo Road.

U.S. Department of Transportation “Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD)” grant funds will be applied to a $1.6 million riverport capital investment and a combined $1.2 million from the Kentucky Transportation and Economic Development cabinets. The riverport has lost out on a slew of competitive federal grant projects for the 1.5-mile stretch of highway before, but, in August, officials applied for BUILD grant funds with federal, state and local government backing.

“The premise behind that support at the federal and state level is the fact that multimodal (transportation) is critical today and it’s going to become more critical in the long-term as the population grows and more vehicles and more trucks are needed on the road,” said riverport President and CEO Brian Wright. “This is not a short-term vision. It’s long-term. At the local level, there have been efforts put in by the economic development corporation as well as the chamber, the mayor and judge-executive. We’ve all collectively worked toward this third round in hopes that we would get the grant.”

Industrial Road has from 4,500 to 5,000 vehicles a day, 45 percent of which are large tractor-trailers hauling upward of 20 to 25 tons apiece. The region comprises mixed-use development with the riverport and 13-plus industries to the north and apartment-subdivisional housing and commercial development to the south. The project, as proposed in grant-application material, would widen Industrial Road to three lanes and bypass a sharp curve located at Medley Road across from Hausner Hard-Chrome Inc. By including a full-length turning lane and cutting down on dangerous blind spots, local officials say they believe the rural highway can be better prepared to meet future industrial and residential needs.

When President Donald Trump’s administration revamped the former Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant into the BUILD grant program it is today, DOT officials said they would focus their attention on infrastructure revitalization in more rural areas of the country, based on a number of criteria, including safety, economic competitiveness, quality of life, environmental protection, state of good repair, innovation, partnership and additional nonfederal revenue.

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said he contacted the DOT in support of Owensboro’s application.

“As Senate majority leader, I made it a priority to increase infrastructure grant funding in hopes that more Kentucky communities would be able to benefit,” McConnell said. “I look forward to the new opportunities for growth in this wonderful region, and I was glad to support this application to help bring new resources to Kentucky.”

Kevin McClearn, who helped oversee the grant development and preliminary design process on behalf of the riverport for American Engineers Inc., said the cooperative nature of the grant and the road’s unique positioning as one of Owensboro’s most direct connections to the Ohio River likely swayed decision-makers.

“It wasn’t really about the traffic,” McClearn said. “We weren’t trying to cut down on traffic, and I’m sure a lot of the applications this year were that way. I think it was the riverport and the mixed land-use, particularly up front. You’ve literally got eight duplexes on your left going in with nearly 2,000 trucks a day rolling by. You can have toys in yards and children playing near the road with commodities going back and forth in front of them. We really tried to hit that aspect of the project hard when we wrote the grant, and I think that paid off.”

ORA truly is a multimodal and intermodal city asset. It receives and ships tons of goods via the Ohio River, an on-site CSX Corp. rail line and, of course, Industrial Road, which connects to U.S. 60 and the former bypass.

“The Ohio River really is our four-lane highway,” said Mayor Tom Watson on Thursday. “Having an asset like the riverport continue to grow is going to bring more traffic up and down through there. It’s going to make Owensboro not a hidden gem anymore but a place to locate.”

Widening on Industrial Road is expected to get underway by 2020, just months after the start of a new shipment deal the riverport was able to secure with Metalsa Inc., which produces steel auto frames in Owensboro. Metalsa will use a third-party shipping contractor to transport frames by truck to the riverport for rail loading at an ongoing inner rail loop expansion project there.

Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly said an important next step in improving the city and county’s west side highway infrastructure is paving U.S. 60 near the Industrial Road interchange as well as a flood-abatement project farther west near Stanley. Both projects have been identified by the KYTC and are on the six-year road plan. It simply takes continued efforts by him and his local government colleagues to express the needs there in order to get state and federal dollars flowing toward those projects, Mattingly said.

Prior to the August application deadline, the city of Owensboro had considered applying for a BUILD grant to cover at least 60 percent of the cost needed to expand Kentucky 54 between U.S. 60 and Whitesville. Mattingly said local officials agreed to abandon that effort and support the riverport’s grant.

“This important grant will clearly expand economic growth for Daviess County and the entire region,” he added.