It's no longer the bypass.

Well, most of us still call it that.

But since 2014, when a new section opened on the east side of town, the highway has officially been just "U.S. 60."

Before the original 10.1-mile four-lane arc that funneled traffic around the borders of Owensboro opened in the fall of 1969, it was derided as "an iron curtain," "a Chinese wall" and a "steel ring around Owensboro."

But as the highway's 50th anniversary approaches, it's hard to imagine traffic in Owensboro without its easy access around the city.

The idea for a bypass around Owensboro was first envisioned in 1956 by Sam Johnson, then the senior member of the engineering firm Johnson, Depp and Quisenberry.

The location Johnson proposed that year was virtually the same path the highway follows today.

Original plans, however, called for a two-lane highway.

And that's what it was when the highway opened to traffic in the fall of 1969.

It was October 1971 before the four-lane bypass was completed.

The highway was officially christened ''Wendell Ford Expressway'' in August 1979.

The journey from the drawing board to asphalt was a long one.

In January 1958, County Judge T.B. Birkhead announced that the first leg of a belt line circling Owensboro could be built that year.

The proposal then was for a 12-mile road.

But seven years passed before the first earth was moved.

In January 1965, the first contract was awarded for work on the highway.

And the first section opened to traffic that fall.

The first proposal would have blocked Bittel, Scherm and Tamarack roads.

In March 1966, County Judge Pat Tanner charged that the belt line would become ''an iron curtain'' around Owensboro, choking off those roads.

The Most Rev. Henry J. Soenneker, then bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro, calling the belt line an ''iron corset,'' joined Tanner in calling for the changes.

Eventually, the state built bridges over Bittel and Tamarack. Barron Drive was added to Scherm to funnel its traffic to Tamarack and Carter.

In February 1969, a few months before the two-lane phase was completed, Bill Haley of Johnson, Depp and Quisenberry said the belt line ''one day will be the most valuable highway asset this city and county could have.''

Two toll roads -- the Green River Parkway (later the "William H. Natcher Parkway" and now I-169) and Audubon Parkway -- were already under construction to link the bypass with Henderson and Bowling Green.

The 23.9-mile Audubon Parkway opened on Dec. 18, 1970.

The 70.2-mile Green River Parkway followed in December 1972.

The Carter Road interchange was finally completed in 1998.

Although Owensboro has grown beyond the old bypass in several places, the highway is still usually considered the city's perimeter.

It may no longer be the bypass, but as it approaches its 50th birthday, it's hard to imagine what Owensboro would be like without it.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com.

(1) comment

Steve Bailes

I wholeheartedly agree, the by-pass has allowed Owensboro to grow economically and in societal elements as well. Can you dig up any pictures the Messy Ink has on file of its construction? Maybe aerials before and after? Steve Bailes

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