Hart County Judge-Executive Terry Martin is counting the days until bids are let to improve a section of Interstate 65 in his county.

I-65 brings thousands of people each day to and through the county, but not without a burden. Accidents in the still-four-lane-section of the road over the years have put a strain on the county’s volunteer fire and emergency services department.

While adding another lane, both north and south, won’t necessarily stop accidents, it should slow them by making the road safer, he said.

The nearly eight-mile section to be let for bids is from just north of Horse Cave to Munfordville and includes the Munfordville interchange.

“It is a longer section than we have been doing, which is normally about six miles,” said Chris Jessie, spokesman for the state Department of Highways in Elizabethtown. “We decided to do a longer section mostly because of the bridges.”

The project includes the I-65 bridge over Green River, the bridge over a CSX railroad track, the bridge over U.S. 31-W and the Ky. 88 bridge, which spans the interstate.

“There is a county road bridge, just north of the rest areas where the project begins, but that was constructed anticipating the wider road,” Jessie said.

The state has allocated $70.2 million for design, a small portion of right-of-way purchase, utility relocation and construction. Construction is budgeted for $65.5 million. But the final cost won’t be known until the bids come in, he said.

“We just had a project meeting on Tuesday, and it is on track. We are hoping for an October letting,” Jessie said. “We still have a couple of utility issues that we are working on, but the plans are by and large ready to go.”

Those utility issues include moving a water and sewer line and fiber optic cable and taking into consideration the possibility of endangered mussels in Green River. 

If the project is bid in October and bids are awarded in November, the contractor would have until the end of 2015 to complete the project, Jessie said.

That leaves nearly six miles in Hart County to be complete.

“I’m thinking they could be right here in the middle of Hart County another 10 years,” Martin said.

Two other projects to widen I-65 are ongoing. The portion from the Barren County to Hart County line should be complete this fall. The other project from the Hart County line to Horse Cave should be complete next fall.

Jessie said local officials are behind a plan to combine more of the roadway into fewer sections than the state typically bids. The state is designing the remainder of the improvements all at once, so that if more money were to become available, it would be ready.

The state in its previous road plan identified eight separate projects for the 26-mile stretch from Munfordville to Elizabethtown at an estimated cost of $221 million. The planning money has been allocated, but the construction funds have not yet been identified. That would likely be considered in 2014 when the General Assembly reconvenes in regular session.

Martin said planning money was in the last road plan, $500,000, to look at the feasibility of designing and bidding the expanded road all at once. The contractor selected for the project would finance it.

“But to my knowledge nothing has become of that study, and I can’t find anything out about it,” Martin said. He said he planned to ask Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock about it this week.

Martin said he was told that a consultant who worked on the Louisville bridges also was supposed to look at I-65.

“But I think he has been tied up so much on the bridges, they have kind of forgotten about this,” he said. “I’m trying not to let it die. We just want it done as quickly as possible before anyone else gets killed.”

— Robyn L. Minor covers business, environment, transportation and other issues for the Daily News. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/bowserminor or visit bgdailynews.com.

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