A reader sent the Commonwealth Journal photographs of bumper-to-bumper traffic on Ky. 461 during the Independence Day weekend. Aware of the soon-to-be let construction contract for a cloverleaf interchange at the Ky. 461-Ky.80 intersection that would four lane Ky. 461 north to near Buck Creek bridge, a CJ reporter asked Chris Girdler, president and CEO of SPEDA (Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority), what current efforts are under way to get Somerset and Pulaski County four-lane access to an interstate highway.
Girdler responded: "This past fall/winter, SPEDA wrote a letter to the governor, our federal congressional delegation along with our state legislators identifying and promoting our two biggest road projects we believe would have the greatest impact on the community and region.
"Highway 461 four laned to I-75 and an I-65 spur from Bowling Green to Somerset (along Cumberland Parkway) were our top two priorities. We wanted to speak as one voice as an economic development entity and outline to those addressed in the letter we believe those two (projects) in particular will have the greatest impact on our community and region," Girdler said.
One of Somerset's and Pulaski County's great advantages is being on the shores of Lake Cumberland, a 101-mile-long, 90-foot-deep water wonderland that fosters a thriving tourism industry. But it is difficult to comprehend this city does not have a four-lane highway to I-75, the north-south interstate that moves a large part of the nation's traffic. It is 25 miles by car along Ky. 461 to I-75 at Mt. Vernon and 33 miles by car along Ky. 80 to I-75 at London.
Cumberland Parkway, 88 miles long, connects Somerset to I-65 north of Bowling Green, and making it a spur of I-65 would be helpful. However few would argue the nation's traffic generally moves north-south and more local automotive and industrial traffic prefer a route to Lexington and points north. Interstate 75 runs from Cincinnati to Toledo by way of Dayton in Ohio. The highway enters Kentucky running concurrently with I-71 on the Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River and into the Bluegrass region.
Original plans for Cumberland Parkway were northwest from Somerset through Greensburg, Campbellsville, Hodgenville and to I-65 at Elizabethtown, then on to Louisville. However, Gov. Louie Nunn, with thanks to Pulaski County for heavy support for his election in 1967, started the Cumberland Parkway at Somerset and built it westward through his hometown of Glasgow and to I-65 near Bowling Green. Nunn had a picnic for the folks at the Dallas Precinct in Pulaski County where he got every single vote.
SPEDA officials agree four laning Ky. 461 to Mt. Vernon is top priority. In its letter to Governor Beshear, SPEDA said: "Our first priority and one we believe will have the greatest positive influence on our community is four laning Ky. 461 (from Somerset) to Mt. Vernon. Design in under way on the north end of Ky. 461 to four lane the road from McDonald's in Mt. Vernon south to the intersection with U.S. 150.
Ky. 80 from Somerset to I-75 at London currently is four lanes east to Ky. 461 at Shopville, and is four lanes several miles west from London. From Shopville to near London, Ky. 80 is two lanes with passing lanes.
As a tribute to longtime Congressman Hal Rogers, Ky. 80 from Somerset to London was recently made a part of Hal Rogers Parkway extending from London to Hazard. In Kentucky's highway planning is a project to upgrade to interstate standards Hal Rogers Parkway from Somerset to Rockcastle River bridge.
Although seldom mentioned, if Ky. 80 were to be upgraded to interstate standards to I-75 at London, it would probably replace another seldom mentioned I-66 corridor through Shopville, Stab and Squib and through the Daniel Boone National Forest to I-75 near the weigh station south of London. Environmentalists object to this corridor because of disturbing underlying karst.
"After much study and discussion, SPEDA board of directors voted unanimously to champion two road projects (widen Ky. 461 and I-65 spur) we feel without question would have the greatest impact on Somerset, Pulaski County and the Lake Cumberland Region," Girdler concluded.
About the Ky. 80-Ky. 461 cloverleaf interchange project, Amber Hale, public information officer for the Highway Department's District 8, a construction contract is supposed to be let sometime this month, but she said Thursday no date for contract advertising has been announced. According to BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) grant specifications, work on the interchange is supposed to be under way by September.