Local News

Ferry Service Proposed During Milton-Madison Bridge Closure

Many motorists who drive across the bridge connecting Milton, Kentucky and Madison, Indiana could be temporarily ferried across the Ohio River in 2011.

Transportation officials in Kentucky and Indiana are proposing a ferry service that would operate during the scheduled replacement of the bridge’s superstructure.

Kentucky Department of Transportation spokesperson Andrea Clifford says if federal stimulus funds are secured as hoped, preliminary work on the project would begin in mid-2010.

“But in early 2011 we would have to start removing the current superstructure, and at that time in order to help mitigate the impact, we would provide a free ferry service,” she said.

“We would run two ferries during the day, most of the day, and maybe one ferry during the overnight hours. Each ferry could accomodate up to about 24 cars, and it takes about 12 minutes to load, get across the river and unload. So during the peak hours we could carry about 240 cars an hour.”

Clifford says officials want to hear public input on the ferry proposal via an on-line poll.

A photo of the proposed ferry route can be seen here.

Local News

States Seek Federal Funds For Two Bridge Projects

Kentucky and Indiana officials are teaming up to apply for federal stimulus funds to complete two bridge projects on the Ohio River.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Indiana Department of Transportation are asking for $95 million to replace the 80 year old Milton-Madison Bridge, and another $25 million for the project to tranform the old Big Four Railroad Bridge into a pedestrian walkway linking Louisville’s Waterfront Park and Jeffersonville, Indiana.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokesperson Chuck Wolfe says the funds being sought come from a $1.5 billion grant pool set aside for projects that can be completed by 2012.

“Kentucky and Indiana, by teaming up, we feel it adds some strength to the application and shows broad support for these two projects,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe says it will likely be several months before there’s an answer from the federal government.

Local News

Prather Leaving Transportation Post

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

The man who has headed the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet since Governor Steve Beshear took office in December of 2007 is stepping down.

“With much regret, today I accept the resignation of my friend, Joe Prather, as secretary of the Transportation Cabinet,” Beshear announced Tuesday morning.

Gov. Beshear says Secretary Prather, who’s nearly 70, just wants to spend more time with his wife Jennie, their children and grandchildren. Beshear says Prather never intended to remain in the administration for the governor’s complete tenure. “He simply has nothing else to prove. And with that, I couldn’t agree more,” Beshear said.

He says Prather has cleaned-up the cabinet, which the governor once called a “cesspool of cronyism,” and has made it more cost effective and efficient. Beshear has named State Highway Engineer Mike Hancock acting secretary. He’s a career employee of the cabinet.

Local News

Arraignments Held On New Bid-Rigging Indictment

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

Kentucky road contractor Leonard Lawson, former state Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert and Lawson employee Brian Billings have been arraigned anew in a federal highway bid-rigging case. All three pleaded not guilty in federal district court in Frankfort.

Nighbert attorney Howard Mann opposes the new indictment, which combines the two conspiracy counts of the original indictment.

“It appears clear that the re-indictment was designed to circumvent prior court rulings that were detrimental to the government’s case. And that’s more fully outlined in our recent filing,” Mann said.

In another development, the judge in the case says he may have to recuse himself because of a potential conflict of interest. Until the matter is resolved, the trio’s June 23rd trial date has been set aside.

Local News

Panel To Study Highway Fatality Data

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has formed a committee to look into ways to reduce fatalities on the commonwealth’s roadways.

Spokesperson Robin Jenkins says the panel will look at statistical data from the University of Kentucky’s Transportation Center, the state police and others to come up with ways to improve safety.

“(They’ll look at factors such as) lack of seat belt usage, if it’s highway related, it it’s an intersection, if it’s a two lane road in eastern Kentucky or a multi-lane highway in Jefferson County, just to look at those common factors).

Jenkins says the panel will issue recommendations to the governor’s office and state lawmakers.

Highway fatalities in Kentucky declined in 2008 for the fourth consecutive year, but officials say 822 people lost their lives in traffic crashes last year.

Local News

Prather Signs Electric Vehicle Order

Kentucky Transporation Secretary Joe Prather has signed an administrative order that will permit the registration of so-called “alternative electric vehicles.”

In August, amid soaring gas prices, Governor Steve Beshear directed Prather to develop and implement standards to allow the legal operation of ZAP and similar electric cars on the state’s roadways.

Transportation Cabinet spokesperson Chuck Wolfe says the vehicles will be restricted to roadways with a maximum speed limit of 45 miles per hour.

“They could cross a roadway with a higher speed limit if and only if they were crossing at an intersection with a traffic light, and then they just have to cross to get to the other side,” Wolfe said.

The secretary’s order does not include golf carts and all-terrain vehicles.

Wolfe says it will take some time to upgrade the computer systems in county clerk’s offices to handle registration of the electric vehicles.

Local News

Officials Say Road Crews Are Ready For Winter

Louisville Metro Government and state transportation officials say they’re well prepared to clear area roads of snow and ice this coming winter.

Louisville Public Works Director Ted Pullen says more than 250 employees from four city agencies will coordinate snow removal, with a fleet of 135 vehicles.

There’s shortage of road salt in some U.S. cities because of a jump in demand last winter, but Pullen says that’s not the case here.

“We have been proactive and we have our salt supplies, most of its in place, we have more on the way, as a matter of fact it’s on barges right now headed up the Ohio to us,” Pullen said.

Officials say interstates and other major thoroghfares are at the top of the road clearing priority list, followed by school bus and TARC routes, hospital routes and highly traveled secondary roads with hills and curves.

Louisville Public Works crews are responsible for clearing just over one-thousand miles of roads, with another one-thousand covered by the state, small cities or private contractors.

Local News

Nighbert, Lawson Enter 'Not Guilty' Pleas

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

A federal bid-rigging case involving a high-ranking official of former Kentucky governor Ernie Fletcher’s administration continues to move forward.

‘Not guilty’ was the plea entered for each of three men indicted in a federal bid-rigging probe of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. Attorney Howard Mann represents one of the defendants, former Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert.

“Mr. Nighbert pleaded not guilty today and he did so because he is innocent,” says Mann. “And I think the facts will bear that out at trial, that he is innocent.”

Attorney Larry Mackey represents Lexington highway contractor Leonard Lawson.

“We’re going to launch a vigorous defense and ultimately, my prediction is, a jury’s going to find absolutely no evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Lawson,” says Mackey.

Also indicted in the probe is Lawson aide, Brian Billings. Trial for the three was set for November 12th in federal district court in Frankfort. The trial is expected to last one to two weeks.

Local News

Campaigns Warned About Placement Of Roadside Signs

With the general election just two months away, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet says highway workers are spending more time confiscating campaign signs that have been placed along state rights-of-way.

Cabinet spokesperson Chuck Wolfe says all campaign signage is prohibited in those areas.

“Anything that is placed illegally in the state right-of-way has the potential to become a safety hazard or at least a distraction,” Wolfe said.

Confiscated signs are kept for 30 days in the Cabinet’s county maintenance facilities.

Local News

Indictments Returned In Bid Rigging Probe

A federal grand jury in Lexington has indicted former Kentucky Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert and road contractor Leonard Lawson following an FBI investigation into alleged bid-rigging on highway construction projects.

The indictment accuses Nighbert of accepting payments funneled through a utility management company in exchange for helping leak secret cost estimates on certain road projects to Lawson.

Also charged in the case is Brian Billings, an aide to Lawson.

Attorneys for Lawson and Billings both say their clients violated no laws. Neither Nighbert nor his attorney had any immediate comment.

Governor Steve Beshear says the charges are what he called “further evidence of a culture of corruption” in the cabinet in years past.

“We have very high standards now and now we expect our folks to live up to it. I believe they are and we’re pushing forward very aggressively in the transportation cabinet and all over state government to be sure we do,” he said.

The indictment says the crimes occurred in 2006 and 2007, during the administration of former Governor Ernie Fletcher.