The $257 million first phase of a project that will complete the I-69 connection between Indiana and Kentucky has begun in the bluegrass state.
(I-69 Ohio River Crossing photo)
The $257 million first phase of a project that will complete the I-69 connection between Indiana and Kentucky has begun in the bluegrass state. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) and the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) are building the I-69 Ohio River Crossing (I-69 ORX), which will improve long-term cross-river mobility, reduce congestion and improve safety.
"Connectivity is extremely important to both communities, both states and the entire region," said Emily Deason, KYTC, I-69 ORX Section 1 project manager. "When the I-69 corridor is complete nationally, it will be a new north/south interstate route that will help to move people and goods all the way from Mexico to Canada."
I-69 ORX is the final connection of I-69 between Evansville, Ind., and Henderson, Ky. I-69 ORX Section 1 will extend I-69 by more than 6 mi. and includes interchanges with KY 351, U.S. 41 near Kimsey Lane and at U.S. 60.
"Indiana and Kentucky have a history of working together, as they successfully delivered two Ohio River crossings in the Louisville metro area with the Ohio River Bridges Project," said Deason. "This Ohio River crossing in Evansville and Henderson reflects another important partnership between the two states."
Not surprisingly, significant planning was necessary before work on the megaproject could begin.
"There's the required planning under the National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA], but also a lot of coordination by the states," said Deason. "It's a tremendous investment, and you have to identify a path forward for a project of this magnitude.
"It's definitely a team effort and has been since day one. This is a bi-state project, and the two states have been working together to develop and now deliver this project. It's a lot of responsibility, but it's well-defined. I'm surrounded by a strong team. Our goal is to keep this project on schedule and on budget. There's constant activity, coordination and decision-making to help make sure that happens. Delegating is just as important as leading. I want to rely on my team while also leading that team."
Deason said the sheer size of the project is one of only several challenges.
"Making sure we have access to needed supplies in a timely fashion is key to maintaining the project schedule. Weather can always be a challenge during construction, but we fared very well in summer and fall 2022 with dry and mild conditions."
I-69 ORX is divided into three sections, with approach work to be completed in both Indiana and Kentucky before construction begins on the river crossing.
"Construction started on the Kentucky approach in 2022. Design work is under way on the Indiana approach, with construction expected to begin in 2024. Work is scheduled to begin on the new Ohio River crossing in 2027, when funding is available. Both states are looking for opportunities to accelerate that timeline."
Section 1 construction is expected to end in late 2025 at a cost of $257 million.
"We are just under 20 percent complete. Some of the tasks that have been completed include piers 1, 2 and 3 on the U.S. 41 bridge over I-69; the abutments for the northbound and southbound I-69 bridges over Canoe Creek; and nearly 400,000 cubic yards of embankment, which has been placed for the new U.S. 41 and I-69 Interchange. This has all been done while the design for the rest of the project is completed."
Deason noted that commuters have not really been affected during Section 1 construction.
"There were no significant impacts to motorists during 2022 construction. While we had some minor closures, nearly all of the work was off the main road where we were building the future U.S. 41 interchange."
A groundbreaking ceremony to officially kick off the high-profile project was held last June.
"It was a picture-perfect day of bright sunshine, blue skies and a lot of excitement," said Deason. "It brought together dignitaries and community leaders from both sides of the river and the men and women who are building ORX Section 1. I think Gov. Beshear likely summed it up best when he said it was a monumental day that people had waited a long time to see."
KYTC Secretary Jim Gray echoed that sentiment.
"From turning the first shovels of dirt this summer to seeing the first new bridges take shape in Henderson, Kentucky, it's so gratifying to see the progress on the I-69 Ohio River Crossing. It's a transformational project that will eventually connect Henderson and Evansville, Ind. It's been a top priority for Gov. Andy Beshear, and I was proud to stand alongside him and break ground this summer. The project will mean improved travel and increased opportunities for western Kentucky and beyond."
The Ragle Inc./Stantec Consulting Services Inc. design-build team was awarded the contract in late 2021.
"Ragle is based in Newburgh, Indiana, just miles from the construction site," said Deason. "It's unusual to have a contractor on a project of this size that is literally in the backyard. They know the area and they take a lot of pride in their work."
According to company vice president Jason Ragle, "Ragle Inc. has become a significant general contractor in the local region, specializing in heavy highway construction. Ragle has been able to develop and sustain a highly-skilled and diverse workforce cable of performing more than 60 percent of the ORX Section 1 contract. Nearly half the current workforce resides in Henderson County or a neighboring Kentucky county, and when the three counties across the river in Indiana are added to the mix, that number jumps to above 75 percent.
"Section 1 is a dynamic project with different types of construction, which includes reconstruction of existing interchanges; new interchange construction; new roadway construction; new bridge construction; bridge rehabilitation; and local corridor improvements. Capabilities and workforce position Ragle to perform the majority of the project with in-house teams."
Current Section 1 work, both under way and targeted for spring of 2023, includes project corridor clearing, bridge rehabilitation, bridge reconstruction, new bridge construction, ITS-VMS installation, utility relocation, box culvert construction, median construction for future northbound lane and embankment construction on the mainline.
"The project's main embankment/borrow source are two detention basins located along project right-of-way," said Ragle. "The west basin is more than 400,000 cubic yards and the east basin is more than 800,000 cubic yards. The project has average hauls over 8,000 linear feet. New alignment will be built outside of existing roadways primarily over existing farm ground. Soils [A-6 Type] are averaging 10 points over optimum in the basins prior to excavation.
"Overall project embankment will be less than 1.5 million cubic yards. Approximately 250,000 cubic yards will be handled with on-road trucks. Approximately 600,000 cubic yards will be handled with off-road articulated trucks. Approximately 650,000 cubic yards will be a cut/balance performed with dozers and tractor/pans. To date, approximately 400,000 cubic yards of embankment has been constructed, with a total material handled of 550,000 cubic yards [topsoil, future stockpiles and waste]."
As for construction milestones in Section 1, said Ragle, "The first traffic shift on U.S. 41 [to temporary pavement] allows construction to begin for the new alignment portion for northbound I-69 near the future U.S. 41 interchange, median construction for the future northbound I-69 at KY351 interchange, rehabilitation efforts to the roadway and widening and bridge improvements on existing U.S. 41 for the southern portion of the project.
"The west and east detention basins are expected to be excavated and dressed by the end of this year, with more than 200 acres and nearly 1.2 million cubic yards of excavated material for embankment. In summer 2024, the U.S. 41 interchange should open to traffic. By 2025, we expect to have the KY 351 interchange upgraded with new twin structures carrying I-69 over KY 351. By late 2025, the U.S. 60 interchange also is expected to be open to traffic."
Ragle said the main impact from weather involves detention basins.
"Rain and saturated soil conditions will carry major impacts to embankment construction. During the winter months, limited work at the structures has continued when possible. The weather during 2022 was favorable to the embankment construction efforts. Due to the unusually dry summer and fall, crews were able to excavate the west basin to nearly 100 percent while constructing fill in the most difficult portion of the corridor. Two major project risks are now minimized due to the favorable weather conditions in late 2022."
Crews are using a mix of primarily Cat and John Deere equipment. A minimum of four Cat 745s articulated trucks are always in use, with that number expected to increase. John Deere tractors with Deere 2412 pans are set up as single pan units. Dozers onsite are a blend of Cat D6Rs, Cat D6Ts and Cat D6N, as well as John Deere 850Js and 850Ls. The grader onsite is a Cat 140M with GPS capabilities. Excavators are a combination of Cat and John Deere units. GPS systems are Trimble.
Materials needed on the job include concrete, aggregates, asphalt, rebar, CMP/RCP pipe, precast storm structures, lighting (Highway/Architectural) and ITS Equipment (CCTV and VMS). Project settlement is likely the most significant element on the project when it comes to time. A settlement of nearly nine months is anticipated in some larger embankments (more than 30 ft.). Crews are working to overcome any supply chain issues and potential delays on that front.
For Deason, being part of such a transformational project is extremely satisfying.
"Not a lot of people have the opportunity to be part of a project that will not only transform a community, but also improve the region," said Deason. "This is a project that local supporters have championed for decades. To serve as project manager and see the earth being moved and future bridges under construction is pretty awe-inspiring. We have a fantastic team in place and a lot of progress has been made. We're excited to build the Kentucky approach that will lead to the new Ohio River bridge."
The work, she added, is both humbling and rewarding.
"Our team is helping build a project that is already bringing economic opportunities to the area. To see that play out over the next years and decades will be very exciting. On a personal note, I have three young daughters — the youngest who was born after construction started on ORX Section 1. I'm looking forward to driving up to and across the new Ohio River bridge and letting my daughters know their mom helped build this." CEG
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