Work Zone Mobility and Safety Program
Photo collage: temporary lane closure, road marking installation, cone with mounted warning light, and drum separated work zones.
Office of Operations 21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Full Freeway Closures:
Recent Success Stories in Kentucky


In the summer of 2000 and the fall of 2001 the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) successfully completed major rehabilitation projects on Interstate 65 (I-65) and Interstate 64
(I-64) with the use of full freeway closures. These two projects were the Cabinet's first use of complete freeway closures. These closures were used on two of the busiest interstates in Kentucky and were done in Louisville, the most densely populated city in Kentucky.

KYTC performed its first full closure in August and September 2000, on I-65. The project was to replace 44 bridge expansion joints, re-seal eight others, and address many smaller maintenance issues along the downtown portion of I-65. The expansion joints on these bridges had not been replaced in over 20 years and were becoming a potential danger to the traveling public.

I-65 has an average of 133,000 vehicles per day with approximately 50% of the traffic being comprised of commercial vehicles. Businesses and entities crucial to the infrastructure of the City of Louisville border the corridor. Several of Louisville's major hospitals, airport, University of Louisville, Kentucky State Fairgrounds and Convention Center, and Six Flags line this section of I-65.

The second full closure took place in August and September 2001, on I-64. The focus of this project was to rehabilitate the pavement along the 3.64 mile route, rehabilitate the Cochran Hill tunnels, and to update guardrail and bridge rails to meet current Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Standards. Video cameras, vehicle sensors, and ITS message signs were also placed within the construction zone. This segment of I-64 had not received any major rehabilitation since its construction in the mid to late 1960's.

I-64 has an average of 100,000 vehicles per day with approximately 11% of the traffic being comprised of commercial vehicles. The project corridor passes through both Cherokee Park and Seneca Park as well as numerous residential areas. Special consideration had to be given to the possible impact the traffic control (construction) alternatives would have on the human and natural environment.

Description of Methods

There are three methods that were vital to the success of the projects on I-65 and I-64. Those three methods are open and honest partnering, a solid maintenance of traffic plan, and an excellent public relations campaign. The effectiveness of our maintenance of traffic plans was magnified by open communication in the partnering process and the phenomenal informative impact our public relations campaign had on the traveling public.

On both projects, KYTC made formal partnering a requirement of the contract. We felt that to accomplish these projects in the short time frames given, successful partnering was critical.  The partnering allowed for concerns and issues to be addressed before the beginning of the projects and forged bonds that made dealing with issues during construction much more simple. A real sense of trust was gained between the contractors and KYTC.

Our maintenance of traffic plans for both I-64 and I-65 were exhaustive. Numerous informational and directional signs were used before and all through the detour routes. Variable message signs were placed well in advance of the detours all along the interstate routes, some as far as 100 miles in advance, informing travelers of the upcoming detours. Louisville's Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) was also used to inform travelers of the upcoming detours. The variable message signs and the ITS were also used the week prior to the closure to remind travelers the dates and times the interstates would be closed. Police officers were stationed at each entrance and exit ramp throughout the duration of the closures. Tow Trucks were placed in locations throughout the detour routes to ensure the routes would be opened as quickly as possible in the event a vehicle were to crash or experience mechanical problems.

For all the efforts we made to insure that the traveling public was informed about our detours, the greatest traffic control asset was our public relations campaign. Not only was the full closure of I-65 and I-64 a first for KYTC, there were also formal public relations campaigns associated with both projects. Never before had KYTC actually placed funding in a project to be used solely for public relations.  The money was used to produce radio commercials, place ads in the local newspaper, operate a 24 hour hotline, send personnel to local events to disseminate information about the projects, produce door hanging packages (ear plugs, sunglasses, etc.) for all of the houses adjacent to the projects, and print information about the closures and detours that was sent to every trucking company that held a license in the State of Kentucky. KYTC personnel involved in the project also appeared on local radio shows and local news broadcasts to help inform travelers about the projects.

Identification of Need/ Reason for Use

When the I-65 project was initially proposed, KYTC looked at doing the project using traditional part-width construction.  Using a continuous part-width maintenance of traffic plan the project was estimated to take approximately 90 days. The KYTC District 5 (Louisville) personnel were strongly opposed to having traffic control set up on the interstate continuously for 90 days. From experiences with emergency maintenance projects and crashes in this corridor, District 5 personnel new that with half the capacity taken away for construction, I-65 would virtually shut down from 6am to 6pm during the week. KYTC felt these types of delays would not be in the best interest of the traveling public. District 5 personnel proposed that the work be done on the weekends only. While all agreed that the project could be done that way and with less impact to the traveling public, everyone realized that stretching the project out that long was also be unacceptable to KYTC and the public.

The District 5 Chief District Engineer then asked, "If money and workforce were not an issue, how quickly could the work be completed?"  The response was it could be done in two weekends, one weekend for each direction. After some discussion, all KYTC personnel agreed that this was the best alternative for both the traveling public and KYTC. From this, the initiative to implement a full freeway closure was born.  KYTC believed that it was better to have a major impact on the traveling public for a very short time than to have a moderate impact over an extended period of time. From this belief, KYTC developed a philosophy of, "Get In, GetOut, and Stay Out."  GET IN and complete as much quality work as possible in a timeframe that will have a minimal impact on the traveling public, GET OUT in the time promised, and finish the work in a quality manner in order to STAY OUT. We shared our idea of a full closure with local officials and public leaders to get their input and received their full support in pursuing the project in this manner.

KYTC faced similar traffic volumes and congestion on I-64 when we began looking at how best to accommodate traffic during the I-64 rehabilitation. Because of the success of the full freeway closure on I-65 and its positive reception by the public and media, a full freeway closure was also chosen to be implemented on the I-64 rehabilitation project.

Benefits of Use

Several benefits were realized through the successful use of the full freeway closures. Using the full closures in comparison to past experiences using traditional traffic control methods minimized the impact to the traveling public. We found that even though the full closures have a much greater impact on the traveling public, if a good detour is available and information is given to the public in advance, the public is very accepting of this traffic control method. The public supported our belief that travelers would prefer a full closure of a major roadway as opposed to traditional traffic control methods in exchange for the promise of no further construction on that roadway in the near future; which follows our philosophy of, "Get In, Get Out, and Stay Out."

KYTC also feels that diverting traffic through a detour, one that can adequately handle the volume of traffic, is a much safer driving environment than driving through a construction zone.  Drivers do not get distracted by looking at the work being done to the road.  Drivers are also less likely to become agitated (road rage) driving through a detour than driving through a construction zone where, in the case of these projects, traffic would have been queued for several miles during the course of each day. As a result of using the detours, there were no traffic accidents and no congestion during either project.

By removing traffic from the construction zone, a much safer working environment was also created for the contractors. We felt that the benefits of a safer working environment were more productivity and a higher quality end product. Productivity was improved because the contractor was able to do the rehabilitations across the full width of the road rather than part of the road at time. The quality of work was increased because construction joints were eliminated and because the contractors had complete access to the construction zones. This gave the contractors more room to operate their equipment and store their materials.  During both projects, there was only one work zone injury.

A major reason for us choosing to use full freeway closures was to rehabilitate the roadways in what we felt was the smallest time possible. However, much to our delight, the contractor completed both projects well ahead of schedule. Not only were they completed ahead of schedule, but also extra work was accomplished to further enhance the condition of the roadways, thus staying with our philosophy of "Get In, Get Out, and Stay Out."  The I-65 project was finished seven hours ahead of schedule. The project was limited to 114 hours; the contractor completed the project in 107 hours. The I-64 project was completed seven weekends ahead of schedule. The project was limited to 15 weekends; the contractor completed the project in eight weekends. For this, the contractor received incentive money. The early completions far surpassed our greatest expectations of the amount of work that could be accomplished in a small amount of time.

A great benefit from completing these projects in this manner has been the sense of respect that the Louisville citizens and media gained for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. They understood that our efforts were truly being done to best address their needs. A new level of respect was given to the Kentucky Transportation employees.

Applicability of Use in Other Locations

We feel that full roadway closures are a viable option in many different types of locations, although they are best suited for urbanized areas. A full closure can be an attractive option when there are two factors present. There must be a detour route that is capable of adequately handling the added traffic volume and the detour route cannot be so long or complicated that it offsets the convenience of using a detour.

Lessons Learned

KYTC has learned that a full freeway closure is not only an option when determining maintenance of traffic option, but can be the preferred option when the right factors exist. In urban areas such as Louisville, we feel that when any major rehabilitation projects are planned on major roadways, the option of using full roadway closures has to be seriously considered before choosing a more traditional option.

A good public relations campaign is vital when completely closing a major freeway. It was vital to the success of the maintenance of traffic plan. By informing people what they would encounter when driving through this area, drivers knew what to expect and how to easily navigate through the detours. The public relations campaign also had the effect that once people heard about the roadway closures and alternate detour routes, many citizens either found alternate routes to their destinations, avoiding the construction area, or did not travel at all.

Comments from the community showed us that the travelers much preferred KYTC to have a major impact to the roadways for the short duration rather than a lesser impact on the roadways for an extended period of time. During both projects, the construction zones looked like military operations, a choreography of workers and equipment doing the rehabilitations. Often times on construction projects the public become angered because they have waited in traffic to drive through a construction zone, only to see no work taking place. This was not the case on these projects.  Anyone seeing the workzones realized there were massive amounts of work taking place at an incredible pace. This assisted in the citizens and the media in Louisville having a new sense of respect for what KYTC does, and how we do it.

Summary and Conclusions

Full freeway closures are not only a viable traffic control option, but can be the most desirable option.  A full closure must have a viable detour, honest partnering among all parties involved, and a great public relations campaign in order to be successful.  When alternative routes are available and time is of the utmost importance, the Cabinet believes a full closure is the best choice.

Louisville is home to the Kentucky Derby, the greatest horse race in the world. When training a horse to run in the Kentucky Derby, the trainer must plan a strategy to prepare the horse for the race that will give it the greatest opportunity for success. In using full freeway closures, transportation leaders must also develop a strategy that will give the project every opportunity to be successful. Extensive partnering and communication, a good public relations campaign, and a solid maintenance of traffic plan are vital components to a successful strategy.  Even though each project was setup to allow the contractor to close the roads for only 57 hours (9 p.m. on Friday until 6 a.m. on Monday) at a time, the other 111 hours of the week were spent stockpiling materials, assigning personnel, and developing a "game plan" for the next 57 hour window. After all the preparation is complete, transportation leaders (much like the horse trainer) must insure they have prepared for any situation, hope for a fast track, and pray for nice weather. If the leaders have prepared well and developed a good strategy, a thankful motoring public will be waiting at the finish line.

Office of Operations