Owensboro mayor wants to shift I-69 route, but state says the course is set
Evansville Courier & Press (IN), 2014-02-14
Feb. 14--EVANSVILLE -- A Kentucky transportation official says plans for a new Interstate 69 bridge over the Ohio River from Evansville to Henderson, Ky., will not change, despite calls from Owensboro (Ky.) Mayor Ron Payne to scrap the bridge and shift the highway extension east to that community.
Payne in recent days has been pushing for a corridor to be built from I-69 at Washington, Ind., south to the existing Natcher Bridge on U.S. 231 east of Owensboro. Payne has said that would save the $1 billion or so required to build a new bridge.
Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock, though, said Thursday that no change will occur.
"The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet does not plan to reroute Interstate 69 through Owensboro," Hancock said in a statement released by his office. "Deviating from the congressionally designated Interstate 69 corridor would prove costly and be difficult to implement. The routes suggested through Owensboro are not compliant with federal interstate standards, nor is it the most direct and efficient route for motorists. We appreciate Mayor Payne's input on the project, but the Cabinet will continue on the course that has been set."
The Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer quoted Payne in a speech last week as saying "work needs to continue to bring an interstate to the most progressive city in the Commonwealth ... This needs to be seriously looked at. Somebody needs to explain to me why this should not be done."
Henderson County Judge-Executive Hugh McCormick said Payne was "very aggressively" pushing for a dramatic I-69 route change on Tuesday in Frankfort, during a social event for local government officials and Kentucky legislators.
Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke, who hosted a 45-minute meeting with Payne on Thursday, said current plans for I-69's extension though Evansville and Western Kentucky have been years in the making. Those plans call for the route to travel south from I-164, east of Ellis Park, across a new Ohio River bridge, later connecting to the Pennyrile Parkway south of Henderson.
Kentucky officials plan to upgrade portions of the Pennyrile and two other limited access state parkways to interstate standards and ask the Federal Highway Administration to redesignate them as I-69. It would extend southwesterly from Henderson to Fulton, Ky., on the Tennessee state line.
Payne's proposal is radically different.
A flyer being distributed by the Owensboro mayor shows a highway traveling from Washington south to the Natcher Bridge and then toward Bowling Green, Ky. The flyer has a red "no" symbol positioned over Evansville and Henderson, which officials in those cities resented.
"Under his proposal, Evansville would indeed become a cul-de-sac. It would be the end of the interstate," Winnecke said after his meeting with Payne, which Payne requested. "Henderson would be left off, as would Madisonville (Ky.) ... Rerouting I-69 without a new bridge connecting Evansville and Henderson is not in the best interest of Southwestern Indiana."
Payne declined to speak with a Courier & Press reporter as he left Winnecke's office except to say, "We had a nice meeting."
McCormick and other Henderson officials were as adamant as Winnecke that I-69's plans stay the same.
McCormick said $34 million in contracts have been awarded in the past two months to upgrade intersections along the Pennyrile Parkway -- part of plans to make the road of interstate quality.
"I think the mayor (Payne) is very much out of tune, out of line," McCormick said, noting federal approval is secured to covert the Audubon Parkway from Henderson to Owensboro as an I-69 spur, which would put Owensboro on an interstate.
"(Payne) ought to want to work with us instead of against us," McCormick said.
Henderson Mayor Steve Austin also said it's too late to change the highway extension's path.
"There's always been an old saying that the horse is out of the barn," Austin said. "But this horse is out of the barn and down the homestretch. Tens and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on the federally approved and state-approved route for I-69 and continues to be today.
"In approximately 24 months, I-69 will be shielded all the way from Henderson to Murray or Fulton and from Evansville to Indianapolis and Michigan," Austin added.
Winnecke said he didn't know about Payne's desire to change the new highway's path until Payne's comments appeared in the Owensboro newspaper.
"My question is, where has the city of Owensboro been for decades?" Winnecke said. "We didn't decide last week to build this. That was one of the many questions I had for him. His answer was, he doesn't know, he doesn't have a good answer. He said in his five years as mayor, he's been focused on a lot of other projects, and clearly, Owensboro has had a great deal of success, some nice progress ... but why all of the sudden Owensboro can raise its hand and suddenly change the course of I-69 is beyond me."
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