SPEDA, Kentucky Touchstone Energy Cooperatives seek funding for Interstate 65 spur project

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This map shows where BUILD grant funding would push forward improvements to the Cumberland Parkway, which, in turn, could pave the way for the parkway to become a spur of I-65. Becoming a spur means it would function like a federal interstate.

The Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA), in partnership with South Kentucky RECC, Taylor County RECC and Farmers RECC, will seek U.S. Department of Transportation BUILD grant funds to explore upgrading and designating the Louie B. Nunn Cumberland Parkway as an official spur of Interstate 65.

Leading this regional project means being able to increase the economic development appeal of Somerset-Pulaski County and other communities along the Cumberland Parkway corridor, which is at the core of SPEDA’s mission, President and CEO Chris Girdler said.

Often, industrial site selectors dismiss these communities because the parkway creates an impression of limited accessibility.

“The creation of an Interstate 65 spur connecting Somerset to I-65 in Bowling Green would have a tremendous regional impact and SPEDA is very proud and grateful to be able to lead the way in this pursuit,” Girdler said. “As the Capital of Lake Cumberland, Somerset and Pulaski County would be able to have direct access to a major interstate and the Cumberland Parkway would receive official interstate standard designations. This is the first step to allow the entire Lake Cumberland region to move forward and enjoy the economic benefits that comes from joining the two major interstates of I-65 and I-75.”

Indeed, the I-65 spur project is the initial piece of a larger vision to increase Somerset-Pulaski County’s economic development viability. Once the Cumberland Parkway is recognized as an interstate spur between I-65 and Somerset, the opportunity exists to extend the highway 32 miles to London to connect with I-75, Girdler said.

According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Transportation, fiscal year 2020 Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation grants will be awarded on a competitive basis for projects that have a significant local or regional impact, including roads, bridges, transit, rail, ports or intermodal transportation. A total of $1 billion is available across the nation for enhancing infrastructure.

The first step will be to apply for $500,000 in BUILD funds to conduct a study to determine what upgrades are necessary for the Cumberland Parkway to qualify for entry into the federal highway system. Girdler said similar studies have taken nine to 12 months to complete, and results will be used to develop projects that would be incorporated into the state highway plan.

These upgrades would be funded with federal dollars, Girdler said. Estimates provided by Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 3 — based on similar costs associated with making the William H. Natcher Parkway in western Kentucky an interstate spur — include $56 million for highway modernization, $10 million to add one interchange, and $2.4 million for signage.

“A special thanks to Kentucky Touchstone Energy Electric Cooperatives for their continued support of the communities they serve and we appreciate their partnership in this endeavor,” Girdler said. “We look forward to collaborating and working with our state and federal officials along with other communities throughout south central and southeastern Kentucky to see this project come to fruition.”

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