The Kentucky Transportation Department said preliminary work for replacing the Ky. 244 viaduct over the CSX tracks in Russell is almost complete.

This means the next step will be hiring a contractor and getting the project underway as right-of-way acquisition and utility relocation along the route of the new viaduct is almost complete. Solicitation of bids is likely to take place later this month. The selection of a contractor is expected to take place probably in September.

The department anticipates building the viaduct will take two construction seasons, which means it would likely open in mid-2021.

All of this of course is good news for Russell residents. The construction project will replace an aging structure that ramps up from Bellefont Street in downtown Russell to U.S. 23. The new route starts at about the same point but veers left and then loops over the river bank, the old structure, the CSX tracks and U.S. 23. The loop continues to U.S. 23 where it now intersects with Kenwood Drive (Ky.750). Under the new configuration Kenwood Drive will end where it joins the loop.

The route requires carving away an immense swath of the hillside on the west side of U.S. 23 — about 225,000 cubic yards of earth and rock. The project is expected to cost between $16 million and $20 million, including the $4 million already spent on preliminary work. To clear the right of way for construction, the transportation department bought several homes and some other property, mostly along the Ky. 750 corridor, journalist Mike James reported recently for The Daily Independent.

The existing viaduct is expected to remain open until the new one is complete. Then it will be demolished. Demolition will be included in the construction contract.

We believe the state made the right decision in keeping the old route open during construction. It would have been easier to replace the viaduct on the same route but then it would have to be closed for two years.

We credit the state with making this decision that finds a way to keep the route open. We also dole out some kudos for getting the project one step closer to reality. It will be a big step forward for Russell and will also help alleviate waits at the traffic signal at the Ironton-Russell bridge.