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Deadly stretch of I-65 focus of scrutiny: Seven-vehicle wreck occurs in area that transportation officials are hoping to widen in the future
[June 30, 2010]

Deadly stretch of I-65 focus of scrutiny: Seven-vehicle wreck occurs in area that transportation officials are hoping to widen in the future

Jun 30, 2010 (Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- A crash Monday on Interstate 65 involving seven vehicles, including two tractor-trailers, brings additional attention to a particularly hazardous stretch of the highway, which is being targeted for eventual widening.

According to the Kentucky State Police, a 2004 Ford Focus driven by Courtney Donohoo, 24, of Calvert City, hydroplaned during a heavy rainstorm about 3:25 p.m. Monday while traveling north on I-65 near the 57-mile marker and struck a cable barrier on the left side of the road, causing a chain reaction of collisions among six vehicles driving behind Donohoo.

The northbound lanes were closed for several hours Monday and the left lane of northbound I-65 will be closed until 3:30 p.m. today to allow for cleanup of debris from the crash, according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

Injured in the crash were Dana Hatter, 66, of Bowling Green; Lavanda Richards, 61, of Kenova, W.Va.; Helen Brown, of North Las Vegas, Nev.; Patrick Cummings, of Huntington, W.Va.; and Heather Boyle, of Kenova.

They were treated and released from Caverna Memorial Hospital.

Monday's crash occurred on a stretch of I-65 that has been especially prone to accidents.

In March, a southbound tractor-trailer crossed the median at the 63-mile marker and collided with a 15-passenger van carrying a Mennonite party from Cumberland County to a wedding. Eleven people, including the drivers of both vehicles, died in the crash.

Last month, an infant died after being thrown from a 2002 Lincoln Navigator when the vehicle smashed into a guardrail three miles north of Munfordville.

The crashes have all occurred on a portion of the interstate between the Louie B. Nunn Parkway and Elizabethtown that remains four lanes wide.

Mark Brown, a spokesman for the Kentucky Department of Highways office in Elizabethtown, said the cabinet's long-term plan is to widen that stretch so the interstate is at least six lanes wide throughout Kentucky.

"That's a long-term goal," Brown said. "Right now, in the interim, the cabinet is taking steps to improve safety with temporary concrete barriers and cable barriers." The temporary concrete barriers were installed after the 11-fatality crash in March and cover 11.3 miles of I-65 in Edmonson, Barren and Hart counties.

Median cable barriers span 10.5 miles of the interstate in Barren and Hart counties between the 52- and 63-mile markers, as well as a 17-mile stretch in Hardin County, according to Transportation Cabinet data.

Since the mid-1980s, the interstate has been widened gradually to six lanes, with the stretch between Louisville and Elizabethtown completed first.

Construction to widen I-65 from the Tennessee border to Exit 43 was completed more recently.

"In general terms, the cabinet for many years recognized the need to expand, to widen I-65 because of its very high truck volume, its congestion and its importance as a commercial artery," said Chuck Wolfe, a Transportation Cabinet spokesman in Frankfort.

The temporary concrete barriers are a stopgap fix to promote safety among motorists until money is found to complete the widening.

Although the Hart County crash that killed 11 happened on a stretch of the interstate with cable barriers, Brown said that crash remains the only instance of a fatal crossover collision on a Kentucky road equipped with the barriers.

From 2004 until the cables were installed, 49 crossover fatalities occurred on those same stretches of road, Brown said.

Finding the money to pay for widening of the final stretch is likely the biggest impediment.

To widen one mile of I-65 would cost $8 million to $10 million, Brown said.

The 2010-12 highway construction plan approved by the general assembly includes funding to widen a section of I-65 in Edmonson County, as well as funding for right of way and utility work -- what Brown called "pre-construction" -- for sections in Barren and Hart counties.

The section in Hart County covered by the highway plan spans about 12 miles between the U.S. 31-W bridge and Ky. 224, and $2.1 million has been allocated for the pre-construction.

It is not known when the work will be completed, and the $2.1 million for right of way and utility work is a "drop in the bucket" compared to the funding needed to widen the entire roadway, according to state Sen. Carroll Gibson, R-Leitchfield.

"It would cost in the neighborhood of $750 (million) or $760 million for the compete widening from Hart through LaRue into Hardin County," said Gibson, who represents Hart, LaRue and four other counties.

To see more of the Daily News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2010, Daily News, Bowling Green, Ky.

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