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Rural Towns Banking on New I-165 as a Boon to Economic Development

Lisa Autry

What’s in a name?  

Some rural communities between Bowling Green and Owensboro are hoping investment. 

The newly designated Interstate 165 is expected to be an economic shot in the arm for towns along what was formerly known as the Natcher Parkway. 

The William H. Natcher Parkway carries some 50,000 vehicles daily between Bowling Green and Owensboro.  The 72-mile corridor is expected to get more crowded now that the parkway is a spur of Interstate 65.  Kentucky Transportation Secretary Greg Thomas made the announcement in Bowling Green in March.

“We are proudly witnessing the transition of the Natcher Parkway to a federally-recognized interstate, I-165," Thomas said. 

The project was announced by Gov. Matt Bevin and U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie in 2016.  Then in 2018, the state reached an agreement with the Federal Highway Administration to officially designate the parkway as I-165.  This summer, the transportation cabinet installed around 300 signs along the corridor featuring the new interstate shields.

Credit Lisa Autry
Beaver Dam Mayor Paul Sandefur is general manager of Ritatsu, an automotive supplier located near I-165.

Owensboro, as Kentucky’s fourth largest city, can now say it has an interstate and Bowling Green can now claim two interstates.  However, smaller communities in Butler, Ohio, and Muhlenberg counties perhaps have more riding on the new designation for its economic development potential.

Interstate access is expected to be a boon to industries like Ritatsu, an automotive supplier in Beaver Dam located just off I-165.  General Manager Paul Sandefur says his and prospective companies need interstate access.

“We ship parts to Somerset, Owensboro, Canada, Texas, Mexico, and Jamestown, Indiana. We ship a lot. We have trucks go out of here seven or eight times a day, five days a week," Sandefur explained. "You can get trucks in and out quickly. There’s generally not a lot of traffic problems with that. Most industry just wants that ease of access to their facility.”

Sandefur is also the mayor of Beaver Dam.  He says having an interstate is a good marketing tool for potential new businesses because the word ‘parkway’ has different connotations around the country, and for some, it might mean an ordinary two-lane highway.

“We know what a parkway is, but you talk to people in other parts of the country, they don’t view the parkway the same way we do, but they know what that interstate is," said Sandefur.

Ritatsu is located in the Bluegrass Crossings Industrial Park where there are currently just four companies.  The regional industrial park has nearly a thousand acres that could still be developed.  

“We have a build-ready pad," said Jodi Ashby, interim head of the Ohio County Economic Development Alliance. "We’ve got plenty of utility capacity out there and we’re hoping this interstate designation will propel us forward into moving that land.”

Credit Lisa Autry
Ohio County Economic Development Alliance Interim Director Jodi Ashby and Tara Ward, a member of the Hartford Economic Development Committee spoke to WKU Public Radio at The Hub, a business incubator and training site in Hartford.

Just down the road from Beaver Dam is the city of Hartford.  Tara Ward, a member of the city’s economic development committee, says having interstate access would have benefits beyond large industry.

“One thing I think is unique to interstates, generally that you see more than you would on a parkway or any other two-lane highway is truck stops, convenience stores type things," she said. "Typically if you’re travelling, you’re going to stick to interstate routes, something you feel has more to offer. Being now on an interstate I think that opens Ohio County to more development in that area.”

Safety upgrades are also a major part of the project to bring the parkway up to interstate standards.  The state has spent around $55 million making improvements to exit and entrance ramps, updating guardrails, and raising overpass bridges to increase clearance.  Another $25 million is set aside to reconfigure three interchanges that remain from when the parkway was a toll road.  That work is slated to begin in 2020.  There’s no timetable for completing the project.

The project will maintain the legacy of Congressman William H. Natcher.  Portions of I-165 are signed as the William H. Natcher Expressway. 

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