After a spate of deadly accidents in what has become known as “Death Valley” in the late 1990s, a project to widen Interstate 65 to six lanes from the Tennessee state line to Elizabethtown was moved up on the state’s six-year road plan.

But that section was scheduled as the second phase of the project, and now, it’s been moved back as the state turns its attention to a stretch south of Barren River to the Tennessee line.

The Death Valley section is generally considered to run from the 43 mile marker near the Louie B. Nunn Parkway to mile marker 53 at Cave City. Many of the fatalities in that stretch occurred when vehicles crossed the median into the pathway of oncoming traffic in the other lanes.

“What’s killing people is the cross over,” Kentucky State Police Public Affairs Officer for the Bowling Green Post Todd Holder said. He said while it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the accidents along that stretch, driver error may be to blame since many motorists fall asleep and then over correct. “There are a lot of factors,” Holder said.

Crash data through August indicates four people have died this year alone on that same 10-mile section of interstate in three separate accidents.

“The 2005 statistics are still very preliminary,” cautioned Capt. Lisa Rudzinski with the Kentucky State Police.

But based on the number of serious accidents and fatalities, engineers determined the deadliest stretch was actually from just below Barren River to the Oakland exit, and the first phase of construction was to widen the road from Nunn Parkway south to Carter Sims Road over pass just south of the Natcher Parkway.

“That section has had the highest number of accidents, and that is the most highly traveled section,” said Jim Hudson, design engineer in the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Bowling Green office. “There’ve been several median-crossing accidents from Barren River up to Oakland.”

All but the final section – from just south of Barren River to Carter Sims –– is complete. Bids were let for that section in August and there are already signs of preliminary work near the Greenwood Exchange at Bowling Green.

The Death Valley section was supposed to be next – but no longer. Instead, work will continue south to the Tennessee line before addressing the section of the road that served as the original impetus for moving the project forward. Additionally, the recently passed federal transportation bill included about $34 million to redo the Greenwood-Scottsville Road exchange in Bowling Green.

But Hudson said he doesn’t believe economic or political interests influenced the schedule of construction. David Garvin, founder of Camping World, is developing a $53 million RV sales and recreation complex on 965 acres along I-65 near Franklin in Simpson County.

“The economic forces came to light after we announced we were widening the road” south of Bowling Green, Hudson said. Instead, focus was shifted southward, he said, as the pavement in Simpson County deteriorated.

“The concrete pavement is falling to pieces in Simpson County,” he said. “The condition of the pavement in Simpson County shifted the focus to the south.”

Hudson said the state has hired design consultants who continue to work on the 10-mile section of I-65 known as Death Valley, and it will eventually be widened to six lanes.

“There’s not much focus on that section right now because the focus is on the section up to the Carter Sims over pass,” Hudson said. “But its not a dead project.”

Glasgow Daily Times Reporter Stacy Neitzel contributed to this story.

Contact Ronnie Ellis or Stacy Neitzel by emailing rellis@glasgowdailytimes.com. or sneitzel@glasgowdailytimes.com.

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