LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In Kentucky's fourth-largest city, there's no instant access to an interstate seen as a magnet for job growth, but officials in Owensboro are riding hopes that a new study will put them on a path toward becoming aligned with a highway running from Tennessee to Michigan.
The report found that a proposed Interstate 67 would attract anywhere from 16,000 to 30,000 vehicles daily along most of its length in 2035 if the corridor is built without tolls. Projected traffic volumes are higher along its possible path through Kentucky.
The corridor is envisioned to stretch from Interstate 65 at Nashville, Tenn., to Interstate 196 in western Michigan.
Transportation benefits and savings for businesses and households are pegged at $3.2 billion for the region of southern Indiana and central Kentucky over 20 years in a no-toll scenario, according to the feasibility study, bankrolled by public and private groups in the region.
"Having an interstate go through this community would be a tremendous boon," said Daviess County, Ky., Judge-Executive Al Mattingly.
The corridor would mean more spending on gas, food and lodging in Owensboro, the seat of Daviess County, and it would make the city of 57,000 more attractive to business and industry looking for quick interstate access, he said.
The city is more than a half-hour drive from I-64 in southern Indiana and an hour from I-65 at Bowling Green in southern Kentucky. That inaccessibility to an interstate has been his area's biggest economic-development obstacle, Mattingly said.
But the I-67 proposal appears stuck in the slow lane for the foreseeable future as Kentucky and Indiana transportation officials focus on completing the long-planned Interstate 69 project under development in both states.
"Our priority in that region is I-69, and it will be our priority in that region for some time," said Chuck Wolfe, a spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
Any work on building an I-67 "would be on a very distant horizon," he said. But he added that state transportation officials recognize there's support, especially in the Owensboro area, for another interstate route through the Bluegrass state.
I-69 eventually will stretch from Henderson to Fulton in western Kentucky. A 55-mile stretch has already gotten I-69 designation.
The Indiana portion of the highway will run from Evansville to Indianapolis. A 67-mile stretch will open ahead of schedule yet this year, and work on another 27-mile leg will be under contract by year's end, said Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Will Wingfield.
With considerable work left on Indiana's part of I-69, the other proposed interstate isn't a blip on the map at this point.
"Interstate 67, as currently envisioned, has not been part of INDOT's previous short- or long-term transportation plans," Wingfield said. "INDOT has met with the group that funded the feasibility study, and was pleased they are considering partnerships with the private sector at this early stage."
A specific route for an I-67 has not been determined. But the study assumed a route in Kentucky and Indiana that would span the Natcher Parkway from Bowling Green to Owensboro, with improvements to upgrade it to interstate standards.
It would then run along the four-lane U.S. 231 from Owensboro, across the William H. Natcher Bridge, to I-64, with more improvements necessary along that stretch. Some new construction would be needed to the north from I-64 in Indiana, bypassing Huntingburg and Jasper to the east and tying into I-69 at Washington, Ind. From Indianapolis to South Bend, an I-67 would run along an upgraded U.S. 31.
An I-67 would give travelers a less-congested route from Nashville to Indianapolis, bypassing the busy I-65 route through Louisville.
Hank Menke, president of the I-67 Board of Directors, a group of mostly business leaders and government officials along the proposed corridor, said the project would "make a difference in economic development all the way up and down this corridor."
"The traffic counts are there to support this type of infrastructure," he said. "And the best thing is this interstate will be America's most cost-effective ever built due to all of the infrastructure already in place. There are only 38 miles of new build area associated with the project."
The study projected traffic volumes ranging from 24,900 to 32,000 vehicles daily on the Kentucky section of I-67 if the corridor is built without tolls. The daily volume would be 21,200 to 28,500 with tolls, it said. Mattingly said he doesn't see much support for tolls in Kentucky.
The study didn't review projected construction costs for the proposed interstate route.
Mattingly said he sees an I-67 as complimentary to I-69, but he's under no illusions that an I-67 will be built anytime soon.
"I suspect that it will take 20 years. But that doesn't mean it's not worth pursuing. We think this one makes so much sense that they really should take a hard look," he said of transportation officials in Kentucky and Indiana.
Regional officials pushing for an I-67 are awaiting more reviews of the projected costs and funding options as they try to make their case to Kentucky and Indiana transportation leaders.
The $250,000 study was done by Massachusetts-based Cambridge Systematics.