Thanks to economic stimulus package money and the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Phase 4 of the Newtown Pike Extension road project — the leg that was supposed to be last — has been promoted to Phase 1.
Providing easier access to the Bluegrass Airport and Keeneland Racetrack from the Kentucky Horse Park for the thousands of visitors in 2010 put that leg of the long-discussed road project in the spotlight. And receiving $11 million of the state's stimulus grant and $1 million from the city pushed the construction into overdrive.
Now all that's going to be required is a huge amount of favor from our fickle Kentucky weather and a giant dose of patience from commuters.
Phase 4 runs from Newtown Pike at Main Street to the intersection of Versailles Road and High and Maxwell streets. The new road will entail building a bridge as well.
Bidding for the project began Friday. Bids will be opened July 24 and a construction company selected soon after.
"This was going to be the hardest section to build," said Andrew Grunwald, head of the Newtown Pike Extension Project. The project required buying land from two railroad companies, large landowners and the Lexington Center Corp. It also required the relocation of Southern States Lexington Cooperative Inc.
"The idea was that if there is any type of accident on New Circle Road that shuts down the inner or outer loops, we would lose conductivity," Grunwald said. That's engineer-speak for "there will be traffic jams." With Phase 4 completed, a lot of traffic congestion would be alleviated.
The purpose of the project — which has been talked about since the 1930s — is to reduce traffic congestion by improving traffic flow away from downtown.
Work will begin in August on the two major intersections — Main Street and Newtown Pike, and Versailles Road, Maxwell and High streets — reducing access to one lane in each direction. This is where the patience will come into play.
Work must be completed before asphalt companies shut down for the winter. During the winter, other work will continue on sanitary sewers on Manchester Street and on the foundation for the pilings that will support the bridge over Town Branch Creek.
Then in the spring of 2010, shortly after the close of the University of Kentucky men's basketball season and after the end of the Boys' Sweet Sixteen, both held in the nearby Rupp Arena, finishing work on the road and bridge will begin in earnest.
Grunwald said the road should be open to traffic on Sept. 1, 2010, 24 days before the games are scheduled to open at the Horse Park.
"We are optimistic," he said.
What road construction project involving a bridge, utility and sewer lines, and the government has ever moved that quickly? Think about the infrastructure overhaul of Loudon Avenue that took three years without building a bridge. Then think "highly unlikely."
Grunwald said to think "no alternative."
"We're locked into a window," he said.
The stimulus money comes with deadlines that dictate when projects must begin. If it is not used, it must be returned to the federal government. Plus, contractors will have incentives to complete the job on time. If the work is not finished, however, the contractor is forbidden to work on that phase during the Games.
"The weather will play a definite role," Grunwald said.
In other words, we don't need another spring like the one we had this year.
Games organizers expect that as many as 300,000 people will attend the first World Games held outside Europe. Those numbers would be reflected in increased traffic, especially from the airport and Keene land to the Horse Park.
Phase 4 would keep traffic west, to the outskirts of downtown and on to Versailles Road.
But where will you find Southern States, which will be razed? It's moving to 2570 Palumbo Drive and will open tentatively on July 15. It had operated at 949 Pine Street since 1957.
Mark L. Southworth, manager of Southern States, said he would like to have stayed where he is, but "we've all got to change. It's progress. We're not going to stand in the way. It's too important to the city."
Grunwald said road-project staffers began talking with Southern States last fall.
"We told them this phase would be first. We weren't sure we would have the money to do it, though," he said.
But in December, then President-elect Barack Obama began talking about the stimulus package, and earlier this year, the actual figures were released.
"I would always like to assume it would happen without it (stimulus money)," Grunwald said, "but the last state legislature would have had to approve it in the six-year plan. Don't know if that would have happened."
Dorothy Coleman, neighborhood liaison for the project, said the change of plans will have little effect on the 16 families that are awaiting new homes in Davis Bottom. Some of them have moved to temporary housing while the project proceeds.
"There was some anxiety about it," Coleman said. "I have to remind them that from the very beginning it was a road project."
Looking at the big picture, she said, the change will be good for the whole city.
While Phase 4 gets under way, work on the infrastructure in Davis Bottom will continue. There will be testing for toxic waste, the building of a noise wall near the railroad tracks to meet Housing and Urban Development guidelines, sanitary sewers and utility lines put in place, and demolition of the older houses.
Kenneth Demus, one of the residents of Davis Bottom living in a trailer while his neighborhood is being rebuilt, said he can wait if there are delays. So can his mother and father, who lived without a working furnace for a year before moving into the temporary housing last fall.
"We stay warmer, and the environment is nicer and safer," Demus said. "We know they are trying to get the road built for the Games."
That's the kind of patience we all will have to summon. And who knows what changes might be in store for the other three phases that will connect Newtown Pike to the entrance of UK on South Limestone?