However, the Ohio River stood in the way of an I-69 connection between the two states – until a bi-state agreement created the I-69 Ohio River Crossing (ORX) project.
The mega-project is divided into three sections, with approach work completed on both sides of the river before construction begins on a new, four-lane river crossing between Henderson, Kentucky, and Evansville, Indiana. Kentucky’s state-funded Section 1 was the first part to proceed. (See “Two Parts to Come” for details on future work.)
After reviewing technical and price proposals for Section 1, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) awarded the nearly $158 million, best value design-build contract to the team of Ragle, Inc., based in Newburgh, Indiana, and Stantec Consulting Services, Inc., of Lexington, Kentucky, in late 2021. Ragle started construction in August 2022 as Stantec finalized design. They expect to finish construction in late 2025.
“Section 1 is a dynamic project with different types of construction,” said Emily Deason, KYTC’s Project Manager.
That includes a 6-plus-mile extension of I-69, nine new bridges, seven rehabilitated bridges, a new U.S. 60 interchange, a reconstructed KY 351 interchange, a new U.S. 41 interchange, and local corridor improvements. New alignment is built outside of existing roadway, primarily over farmland. However, with a large portion of the project in a floodplain next to the river, the design-build team implemented purposeful phasing and a few special measures to overcome the difficulties of wet soil and settlement.
The magnitude of the work naturally poses coordination challenges, but also presents opportunities – when various issues interfere with planned work, crews move to another part of the project.
“One year into construction, you can travel the 6-plus-mile corridor and see signs of progress everywhere you turn,” Deason said. “Completed work includes 600,000 cubic yards of embankment, four reinforced concrete box culverts that go under the future I-69 lanes, and a pedestrian tunnel for a multiuse path that will go under U.S. 41 lanes. In addition, work started on five of the nine new bridges and rehabilitation work started on two of the seven bridges. We’ve set over a dozen beams and poured more than 1,700 cubic yards of concrete. This was all done while the design for the rest of the project is completed.”
The team expects design work to conclude by the end of 2023.
As construction progresses, “Weather can always be a challenge, but we got off to a very strong start in summer and fall 2022 with dry and mild conditions,” Deason said. “Rain this summer meant pivoting on some items to when conditions are more favorable, but we remain on schedule.”
With volatile material lead times, “Ragle had to make several schedule adjustments,” Deason added. “Flexibility has been key. If needed materials aren’t available, attention will turn to another task to keep the overall schedule on track.”
In another effort to expedite project completion, crews will work year-round. “The contractor focuses on bridges, reinforced concrete box culverts, and utility work during the winter months,” Deason said.
However, “Since Ragle was able to get an early jump on dirt-moving operations, that alleviated a lot of the risk with settlement,” Deason said.
All the material for embankments will come from the project site. Two permanent detention basins along the right-of-way serve as the main borrow sources. The west basin contains over 400,000 cubic yards and the east basin over 800,000 cubic yards. The project has average hauls over 8,000 linear feet.
Because the A-6 soil in the basins averages 10 points over optimum prior to excavation, Ragle mechanically discs the soil and lays it out to dry. It usually takes about three days for moisture to wick up and leave the soil within tolerances.
“With the two miles of greenfield area and 180 acres of detention pond to excavate, Ragle has ample room to spread dirt and speed up the drying process,” Deason said.
The contractor also uses bridge lifts to overcome poor soil conditions. In addition, crews will break up most of the existing pavement and bridge demolition debris for reuse as embankment material.
For the rentals, Ragle worked with three dealers in Evansville, Indiana – Boyd CAT for the Caterpillar equipment, McCoy Construction & Forestry for the John Deere equipment, and Brandeis Machinery and Supply for Komatsu equipment.
Throughout the work zone, Ragle installed special speed detection devices that encourage motorists to slow down. The solar/battery-powered Ver-Mac Speed Wizards display both the current work zone speed limit and the speed of oncoming traffic, flashing warnings for drivers going too fast.
“These were not required contractually, but it’s something that Ragle wanted to do,” Deason said. “We want to make sure everyone gets home safely at the end of the day.”
“It’s unusual to have a contractor on a project of this size that is literally in the ‘backyard,’” Deason said.
As a result, “The majority of our workforce comes from the surrounding region,” said Jason Ragle, Vice President and Project Manager. “The Ragle Midwest office has approximately 200 employees within 30 minutes of this project, and we’re always looking to add quality people to our team.”
Deason commented on the significance of the project to all those involved.
When finished, “The I-69 Ohio River crossing will connect communities and expand opportunities for the region. We’re already seeing economic opportunities coming to Henderson because of this project, and those doors will only continue to open.”
On a personal note, she added, “I have three young daughters. My youngest was just a few weeks old when I brought her to the groundbreaking for ORX Section 1. We have a photo together at the site of the future I-69, and I’m looking forward to capturing another photo when the work is complete and the new I-69 is a reality.”
- Owner – Kentucky Transportation Cabinet; Emily Deason, Project Manager
- Lead Project Development and Design Firm – Parsons, Louisville, Kentucky; Steve Nicaise, Design Project Manager
- Engineering Consultant – HDR, Lexington, Kentucky; Kenny Pietz, Resident Engineer
- Design/Build Team:
- Stantec Consulting Services, Inc., Lexington, Kentucky; Michael Perry, Design Project Manager
- Ragle, Inc., Newburgh, Indiana; Jason Ragle, Vice President and Project Manager; Ryan Montgomery, Utilities Lead; Jennifer Bradshaw, Structures Lead; Keith Maasberg, Roadway Lead
- Section 3 – Led by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT), this section will start next, building a portion of the project’s Indiana roadways and bridges. This state-funded work will provide all-weather construction access to the river for Section 2. INDOT plans to let the Section 3 design-build contract in November 2023, with construction expected to begin in early 2024 and finish in 2026.
- Section 2 – This bi-state project between Kentucky and Indiana includes the new, four-lane river crossing, supported by toll revenue as well as federal and state funding. Construction of the design-build project is currently anticipated to begin in 2027 and finish by 2031. However, in August 2023, Kentucky and Indiana jointly applied for a $632.3 million federal grant through the Multimodal Discretionary Grant Program, created as part of the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. If they receive the grant early next year, those funds could accelerate the project timeline. Both states continue to look for additional opportunities to finish the work sooner.
Photos courtesy of I-69 Ohio River Crossing