Boone County, Ky., is about as far north as a person can get in the Commonwealth. It stretches to the Ohio River, on the other side of which is southern Ohio and the City of Cincinnati. Running through the heart of Boone County is KY-237, a busy roadway connecting dozens of residential neighborhoods, commercial areas, and farmland. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport lies to the east of KY-237, contributing significant amounts of traffic.
Years ago, Boone County’s leaders laid out a plan for upgrading transportation facilities across the county. Their goal was to improve safety and accessibility for county residents and visitors, as well as to introduce multimodal access where it was lacking. One of the key projects in support of the plan has been the widening and reconstruction of a 5.2-mile stretch of KY-237.
Taking improvements one step at a time
KY-237 was previously a two-lane rural roadway with no shoulders and steep embankments. Though it traversed large swaths of rolling terrain and touched more than 180 residential and commercial parcels in Boone County, its inability to support traffic flow and safely accommodate non-vehicular modes of travel was becoming evident.
In addition to the narrow template, substandard horizontal and vertical geometry — resulting in tight curves and poor sight distances — introduced challenges. The residential neighborhoods along KY-237 had made improvements to their own roadways and bicycle/pedestrian paths, but KY-237 itself was a different story. So a three-section improvement plan was laid out, and Gresham, Smith and Partners (GS&P) joined the team as the lead engineer.
The first section of the project, known as the south section, included a bridge widening across US-42 and addition of a large retaining wall to preserve a church near the existing intersection. Construction of those improvements was completed in the late 2000s. The north section followed, with the addition of a single-point urban interchange (SPUI) at KY-18/KY-237 to replace the existing at-grade intersection, in order to accommodate projected traffic volumes. The team also had to work around major constraints related to the airport, primarily relating to the elevation of the bridge deck and interchange lighting. New landscaping along the SPUI offered aesthetic improvements. Construction of the north section was completed in 2013.
Improvements to the final section, or middle section, will begin soon and include a new bridge over Gunpowder Creek and a multi-lane roundabout, which will be one of only a handful in Kentucky. The roundabout, at the KY-237/Camp Ernst Road intersection, is initially set up for the existing “T” intersection, but also includes accommodations for a future fourth leg. The bridge over Gunpowder Creek was originally going to be five lanes, but a lack of destinations before and after the bridge eliminated the need for a middle turn lane. Scaling down to a four-lane bridge was a successful cost-saving measure. The middle section of the project will be let to construction this spring.
A common thread between all project sections has been the widening of KY-237 along the entire 5.2-mile stretch from two lanes to five lanes, with multi-use bicycle/pedestrian trails introduced on both sides. GS&P has been responsible for preparation of alternate alignments, grades, drainage design, right-of-way plans, and final plans for all three sections of the project. The design also included curb and gutter, storm sewer, culvert extensions, new bridges, retaining walls, detention areas, detailed erosion control plans, detailed maintenance of traffic plans, intersection modifications, and crossroad realignment and connectors.
It’s all about access
The team was aware that, in many cases, similar transportation projects would not make an effort to tie neighborhoods back into the new roadway. But GS&P and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) Project Manager Carol Callan-Ramler wanted to go the extra mile in support of connectivity, helping to connect the dots from a regional standpoint. The project provides a safer route for children in the local neighborhoods to get to Camp Ernst Middle School, carrying a sidewalk straight to the building’s entrance. Multimodal access leading to Boone Woods Park was also introduced, offering a significant quality-of-life boost for local residents. The county is even extending GS&P’s multi-use plan, planning to connect yet another park to the system.
Throughout the project, the team coordinated with property owners and utility providers to facilitate access management and minimize project impacts. They also provided extensive public engagement services throughout all design and construction phases. Additionally, utility coordination with a 22-inch, high-pressure Sunoco gas pipeline was also necessary at several locations throughout the project corridor. A detailed subsurface utility survey was used to adjust grades to avoid this critical piece of infrastructure.
In 2017, the Kentucky Chapter of the American Public Works Association presented its Project of the Year award to the KYTC, ATS Construction, and GS&P for the KY-237 project. The team was recognized for its commitment to high-quality design and maximizing construction dollars, with the end goal of improving safety for the region’s driving public. The project has also been tremendously well-received by the public. The improvements are both functional and aesthetically pleasing, meeting the needs of this community now and as it continues to grow in the future.
Jeremy Kubac, P.E., is a transportation engineer and associate in the Louisville, Ky., office of Gresham, Smith and Partners (www.gspnet.com). He has a wide range of project experience including highway design, streetscapes, and green infrastructure. He also serves as the immediate past president of the Derby City Section of the American Society of Highway Engineers.