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Graves Interchange Project Adds Greater Mobility in Northern Kentucky

by: Larry Bernstein
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is working to quickly deliver the Graves Interchange project in Boone County to help with area congestion from warehouse delivery trucks.
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is working to quickly deliver the Graves Interchange project in Boone County to help with area congestion from warehouse delivery trucks.
Twenty-four hour delivery is the new standard. In order for companies to meet this customer expectation, they need to have warehouses and distribution centers around the country. One such area that major companies have descended on is Boone County in Northern Kentucky. The area, which is also just a few miles from Cincinnati, is home to a busy airport – Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport or CNG. In order to keep traffic flowing in the congested area, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) started the Graves Interchange Project.
Industrial and Residential Need
Industrial growth and population growth go hand in hand. Northern Kentucky is home to warehouses for Amazon, UPS, and others. This has led to huge residential growth in the area while others live in the area and work in Cincinnati.

There are delivery trucks traveling through the area regularly. This has caused mobility issues particularly during certain busy periods. “Around the holidays, traffic can come to a grinding halt in the area,” says Brandon Seiter, KYTC Project Manager for the Graves Interchange Project. “When this project is complete, it will give travelers another avenue to get where they have to go.”

Beyond improving mobility in the area, the project is also expected to boost safety.

Project Elements
The interchange referred to in the project name is off of I-275 and is just a few miles from the CNG airport. Elements of project include:
  • Extending one lane of traffic on a westbound lane
  • Building an additional travel lane on eastbound side
  • Widening and realigning Graves Road
  • Shifting an intersection away from the new ramps
  • Making safety enhancements
  • Adding sidewalks

The most significant element of the project is the construction of a new double crossover diamond (DCD) interchange. “A DCD is a relatively new innovative way to move traffic,” says Seiter. When this DCD is complete, it will be just the third (including another one that is currently being constructed) in the entire state of Kentucky. The DCD will be an outlet to other routes in the area.

In a DCD, traffic through an interchange follows clearly defined curbs, signs, pavement markings, and state-of-the-art signals to move briefly over to the left side of the road. This eliminates the need for drivers to turn left in front of oncoming traffic. Drivers who need to continue through the interchange then cross back over to the right side of the road, leading to the “double crossover” name.

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Because DCD reduce the number of traffic conflict points, they increase safety. In addition, DCD lead to reduced speeds, so if a crash does occur, it will in all likelihood be less severe.

In addition to safety benefits, DCD’s improve efficiency. Because there is no need for a separate signal phase to allow for left turns, DCDs also move drivers through high traffic areas much more efficiently.

Reduced Footprint Means Reduced Cost
The original plans for the project did not include a DCD. “While we were vetting teams, one presented the DCD as an alternate, and they were selected,” said Seiter.

Their selection and the decision to construct a DCD meant a reduced footprint was needed. Furthermore, less land meant a reduction in right of way and the cost of construction was lowered.

The budget for the project is $56 million and payment is being made through a combination of federal, state, and local funds. While it’s early in the project, Seiter notes the project is on budget so far. “We are tasked to focus on the scope and not add expenses, unless something is critical.”

To ensure that task is met, the team holds weekly progress meetings to review the budget. The team is also constant communication to review issues as they arise.

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The project is being delivered via design-build, which Seiter says is “not typical in the area.” However, this project was ripe for this delivery method for a few reasons.

The project was a good candidate for design-build as there were no significant environmental or historical concerns, which often lead to delays while the necessary permissions and remediations are granted.

In addition, “There’s great demand for this project and design-build is the best ways to get started quickly and move forward more quickly,” says Seiter. The team can work on a key aspect of the project right away while other parts of the project are in earlier phases instead of waiting for all preconstruction to be done before moving on to construction.

The Graves Interchange project was awarded in the fall of 2019 and is expected to be complete in the spring of 2022. However, the DCD is expected to be operational this fall. “It’s critical to get the DCD done before the holiday season,” says Seiter. As per the contract, the contractor has a significant incentive to meet this deadline.

Pandemic Challenges
Seiter says the project is typical in many ways to what the KYTC does in the area. However, what’s not typical is working through a pandemic. “We’re figuring it out on the fly,” says Seiter.

The team is using technology in many ways, having virtual meetings, as those who can work from home are doing so. For those who are on site, the team is doing best they can to ensure employees are safe and practicing social distancing. To keep everyone on the same page, “We’ve increased communications on our end, and regularly update everyone about what is going on,” says Seiter.

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When the Graves Interchange project is complete, both residential and commercial traffic will be able to move more efficiently and safely. The project will help provide the infrastructure Northern Kentucky needs to continue to grow both commercially and residentially and it will help companies continue to meet their promise of 24-hour delivery.

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