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Saturday Morning Snow Update

Crews are on the roads in Louisville clearing snow.

Several inches of snow fell last night and snow is expected to continue until about noon. Louisville Metro Government has crews on the roads and state crews are clearing the interstates in one-hour cycles.

Transportation Cabinet spokesperson Andrea Clifford says the state crews will continue to work throughout the day.

“Definitely through the afternoon and possibly into the evening, we will even have crews out monitoring for refreezing, monitoring for slick spots and doing spot treatment as necessary,” she says.

Clifford says snowfall was worse in southern and eastern Kentucky, though no state roads were declared impassible.

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Stimulus Dollars Add Workers To Roads, Cabinet Campaigns For Safety

The federal stimulus package will fund some additional highway projects across Kentucky, and the state Transportation Cabinet is taking steps to protect the extra workers.

“Traditionally construction starts in April when the weather starts warming up again and a lot of projects get going. But we will have many more projects this summer due to the stimulus funding,” says cabinet spokeperson Andrea Clifford. “We have several projects that are being funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”

The cabinet is putting up additional signs on the highways and launching a media campaign to encourage safe driving in construction zones.

Three road workers were killed last year Kentucky, but highway crews are not the only ones at risk.

“85% of those that are injured or killed are motorists,” says Clifford. “They’re not the workers in the workzones.”

Clifford says there will be about fifteen construction projects in Jefferson County in April, with more projects starting in the following months.

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Low-Traffic Roads May Be Uncleared For Days

Local and state road crews in Kentucky and southern Indiana continue the work of salting and plowing roads left treacherous by the winter storm that moved into the area early Tuesday.

Kentucky Department of Highways spokesperson Andrea Clifford says interstates and busy routes are a priority and with precipitation and freezing temperatures in the forecast through Wednesday night, there may not be time to clear less-traveled roads.

“Even after the snow and ice stops falling from the sky, a lot of times you’ve got the slush that’s on the shoulders and with these lower temperatures it will refreeze if it melts and runs back out on the roadways in the evenings when the temperature drops,” she says.

Mayor Jerry Abramson said today that public works crews will stay on the job around the clock to keep roads clear.

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Harrod's Creek Bridge Faces More Delays In Reopening

Bridge RailLouisville Metro Government is waiting for approval from two state agencies before repairing and re-opening a one-lane bridge in eastern Jefferson County.

The nearly century-old bridge over Harrods Creek on River Road was closed in November after it was declared unsafe by a state inspector. The city announced plans to replace its guardrails. Because of the bridge’s age, the State Historic Preservation Office must approve the installation.

And mayor’s office spokesperson Chris Poynter says there are now questions about the bridge’s overall structural integrity.

“The Transportation Cabinet has asked us now to take a core sample from the decking of the bridge is and if this plan would work,” he says.

Poynter says he’s not sure when the two agencies will approve the repair plan.

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Abramson To Meet With Obama Team

Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson and eleven other mayors have been invited to meet with President-Elect Barack Obama’s transition team.

On Thursday, Abramson and other representatives from the U.S. Conference of Mayors will meet with team co-chair Valerie Jerrett. The group will go over plans for a multi-billion dollar infrastructure stimulus package.

The package is expected to be among the first legislation passed under the new administration. If it goes through, Mayor’s spokesperson Chris Poynter says the city will have projects ready.

“We in Louisville submitted projects totally $607 million,” he says. “Ranging everything from widening suburban roads to replacing portable classrooms and elementary schools. And those jobs, if all funded, would create 18 thousand jobs for the city of Louisville alone.”

Abramson also addressed congress in October on the need for the infrastructure stimulus package.

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Kentucky Squeezes Road Projects to Save Money

It’s no secret Kentucky is in an economic pickle. The Governor hopes to save some money now – and in the future – by changing the way Kentucky designs roads.

And although transportation officials don’t know how much money could be saved, they’re moving forward with cost-cutting measures on projects that are already underway. WFPL’s Stephanie Sanders reports.

Dump trucks are unloading road materials next to KY-393 in Oldham County. We’re two years into the state’s Six-Year Highway Plan, and this project calls for a widening and relocation of the current two-lane road just off I-71. Over the last two years, the state has allocated 17-point-five million dollars to the project.

But in the last few weeks, highway engineers at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet have been reviewing the six-hundred existing road projects in the state, including this one. They’re looking for ways to cut costs, and KY-393 is a perfect example of the types of changes they hope to make.

Governor Steve Beshear has been touting the overhaul of the way road projects are approached in the state since he announced the plan – called “Practical Solutions”. He spoke earlier this month at a forum in Louisville.

“If we’re successful in doing this, this will be the biggest change in the way we do business in probably the history of the Commonwealth,” says Beshear.

Part of the initiative is to reduce extravagant road projects lawmakers have inserted into the Highway Plan to win brownie points in their home districts. But the biggest chunk of savings, according to Transportation Secretary Joe Prather, will come in reevaluating each project’s size and materials.

“We’re looking to build more Chevrolets and fewer Cadillacs where appropriate and in the process save significant dollars,” says Prather.

The Cadillacs he refers to might be a four-lane highway with wide medians and shoulders. The Chevrolets would result from downsizing that project to include smaller medians and shoulders, and only two lanes with a passing lane. Or – in the case of KY-393 – simply repaving an existing road and adding shoulders as opposed to relocating the road forty yards away from the original.

The governor’s plan is modeled after a similar initiative in Missouri called Practical Design. Instituted in 2006, transportation officials there project it will save the state 400-million dollars over five years.

“I was real concerned at the start that we would have safety problems,” says Charlie Nemmers, the Director of the Transportation Infrastructure Center at the University of Missouri. The idea of skimping on road projects turned his civil engineer stomach, but two years into Practical Design, he admits he was wrong.

“What ended up happening is in the last two years, they’ve had fewer fatalities on their highway systems by the order of magnitude of a hundred or so,” Nemmers says.

Highway engineers in Missouri and Kentucky say that’s happening because the new approach allows them to improve more miles of roadway than they previously could.

But are these so-called Chevrolet roadways still good enough to attract economic investment to rural areas of the state? Nemmers says in Missouri their recent studies show a well-maintained two-lane highway adequately handles traffic in these rural areas, whereas a four-lane would be a luxury.

“Occasionally, you’re going to find that economic development would be of sufficient size and would cause a ripple effect as far as growth where you would need to continue to have four-lane roads, but we think there are going to be many instances where that is not the case at all,” says Kentucky Tranportation Secretary Joe Prather.

“There’s no sense adding capacity on road systems where there’s already excess capacity, so… sounds like a very rational approach to me,” says University of Louisville economics professor Dr. Paul Coomes – he says the top priority should be identifying bottlenecks and fixing them in urban areas… but in rural areas the old ‘build it and they will come’ adage doesn’t always work. And in tight budget times, the cost may not be worth any unknown economic investments, even five or ten years from now.

And it will likely take that long to know the economic effect of the plan. The Transportation Cabinet isn’t planning to study if the changes will effect economic investments in the state. They’re hoping businesses that may be looking for a Cadillac will settle for a Chevy.

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Beshear Promotes Teamwork Among Smaller Governments

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear talked about the power of teamwork during an address to the annual Local Issues Conference in Louisville Tuesday.

In his keynote speech, Beshear said every local government in Kentucky is facing a tough economy. The best way to cope with limited funds, he said, is through teamwork.

Earlier this week Beshear announced plans to scale back road construction projects. In his local issues speech, he called upon city and county governments to advise him on which projects to change, and in what ways.

Scott County Magistrate Tom Prather attended the conference. He says that while it makes short term financial sense to build narrower and less advanced roads in some areas, governments should plan ahead before making any decisions.

“Clearly we have to scale those projects to anticipate the future,” he says. “Either by right of way acquisition that’s done now or we anticipate those future needs given our understanding of how our communities will grow.”

The Local Issues Conference began on Monday and ends Wednesday.

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Transportation Cabinet To Re-Evaluate Projects

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is rethinking its plans for road repairs and construction.

Cost estimates for road work have increased 40 to 50 percent, which has made the state’s current plan for highway renovations unaffordable. Cabinet spokesperson Mark Brown says no projects have been cancelled, but the Cabinet is re-evaluating its plans and may make changes to save money.

“We might build a ten foot shoulder instead of a twelve shoulder,” says Brown. “Or we might build a two-lane highway with wide shoulders instead of a divided four lane road if we find out a two lane road will suit our needs.”

Construction costs have risen mostly because of higher fuel prices and increased demand for materials overseas.