The long winding road: A look at Kentucky’s Mountain Parkway expansion

Republished from WEKU.

The future of the Mountain Parkway running from just outside Winchester deep into eastern Kentucky has been a topic of interest for government and business leaders for more than a half century. The light at the end of the proverbial tunnel regarding an expansion is coming into view.

The State Capitol Rotunda is a popular spot for celebratory events. This week found time set aside to recognize infrastructure achievements. High on the list is ongoing work to see the entire Mountain Parkway from Clark County to Floyd County turned into a four-lane road. Governor Beshear said 100% of the project is either completed, under construction, or under contract. And that under-contract part has an Appalachian theme.

“In August we announced that Bizzack Construction is lead design build contractor for the final segment. This means that an eastern Kentucky company is gonna finish the four-laning of the Mountain Parkway with eastern Kentuckians doing the hard work,” said Governor Beshear.

The Rotunda event also included remarks from engineers. Marcia Gelder Murphy is president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. In addition to the significant safety aspects of going from two to four lanes, she said economic benefits will be seen in eastern Kentucky stretching to urban centers.

“We look at these projects as a way to not only expand the economy for the local community but for the state as a whole,” said Gelder Murphy.

Gelder Murphy noted the eastern Kentucky region finds a lot of people who need jobs, want to work, and they’re needed.

 Eric Skaggs is project manager for the expansion. The final segment of four lane work runs about 13 miles in Magoffin and Floyd Counties. Skaggs said all of this work, when federal dollars are included, require environmental assessment.

“Various environmental studies…archeological, cultural, historical…things of that nature. It’s a normal process and we document it. And we have that available for public review and just a part of the funding scenario that we have to go through.

That takes some time doesn’t it? …That takes some time yes,” said Skaggs.

The original Mountain Parkway opened in January of 1963, including many two-lane miles. Governor Beshear said he hopes to be able to travel the parkway, all four-laned by the end of his term. Skaggs can’t offer a guarantee. The project director said no completion date has been set.

 One of the legislators with a keen interest is GOP Representative Johnnie Blanton of Salyersville. The Salyersville to Prestonsburg segment is the final piece of the puzzle.

Bringing more industry to eastern Kentucky has been a driving factor for decades. Blanton, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, thinks this may be the time.

“I think we will see a change. Are we gonna see a Toyota…no. We’re not, but we are gonna see companies because we have the workforce in east Kentucky to provide. We’re losing a lot of people moving outside the area for jobs,” said Blanton.

Blanton added some industries and businesses say the extra lanes and even larger intersections make a difference when deciding on where to locate a plant.

Blanton said there is an appetite among lawmakers to put enough state money into the project to get it done, particularly when there’s been this much investment already.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is a key player. Cabinet Secretary Jim Gray spoke this week about the state missing out on a federal mega grant to help with the Mountain Parkway expansion and the I-69 Ohio River Crossing project. Gray stressed that’s not the end of the discussion.

“Kentucky’s been swinging and winning at the competitive grant proposal business. We’re going to continue to do just that. There are other grants. There is other funding available and we will continue to be competitive on the grants that are still available,” said Gray.

Gray said the state will re-apply for the mega grant too. And lawmakers in Frankfort are being asked to support $300 million in state general fund dollars to speed up the work on the Mountain Parkway expansion and I-69 project.

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Originally published by WEKU.

Republished with permission.