Highway upgrades

Upgrading Ky. 80 (Hal Rogers Parkway) to interstate standards from Somerset to the Rockcastle River bridge and then to I-75 at London would connect Pulaski County eastward to the more than 14,000 miles of interstate highways.

Upgrading Ky. 80 (Hal Rogers Parkway) to interstate (I-66) standards from Somerset east to the Rockcastle River bridge has been retained in HB 305  (State Highway Construction Plan) and approved by both the House and Senate. It’s undetermined at this point if the road plan has been signed by Gov. Matt Bevin, or if the governor has used his line-item veto on any highway projects.

 Amber Hale, public information officer for the Highway Department’s District 8 Office in Somerset, said Thursday morning the local district office has not been informed if Bevin has signed the document.

Keith Buckhout, assistant to Chuck Wolfe, executive director, Public Affairs for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet in Frankfort, also said he isn’t aware if HB 305 has the governor’s signature. Buckhout assured that the $56.3 million in road projects in Pulaski County were still in the bill when it passed both houses. He said he would try to find out if Bevin has signed HB 305, but didn’t call back, and a telephone call to the governor’s office had not been returned by presstime.

I-66 through Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District is the brainchild of Congressman Hal Rogers. It was Rogers who guided the corridor of I-66 through Pulaski County. Cumberland Parkway, from I-65 north of Bowling Green east to Somerset has been designated a future I-66 corridor. Somerset’s northern bypass is a relocated eastern end of Cumberland Parkway and part of I-66.

Interstate 66 was designated in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 as the East–West TransAmerica Corridor. The United States Department of Transportation originally planned to extend the current I-66 from its western terminus at Middletown, Virginia, across the country to California. The route west of Kansas was not favored by any of the related state highway departments, and as a result I-66 west of Wichita, Kansas, through New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California was canceled.

Rogers persisted with I-66 in the 5th Congressional District. An interstate highway from the end of the Cumberland Parkway to I-75 at London would attach Pulaski County eastward to the nation’s network of interstate highways. It would remove the hesitancy of industry moguls to choose Pulaski County because of distance from an interstate highway. Cumberland Parkway west to I-65 near Bowling Green is 88 miles, and the nation’s movement historically is north and south.

From the current end of the northern bypass at the U.S. 27 overpass about 3 miles north of Somerset, the I-66 corridor extends eastward across Ky. 39 to Ky. 80 at Barnesburg. Some right-of-way has been obtained and utilities moved along this corridor but no construction money is available.

From Barnesburg at Ky. 80, the original I-66 corridor extends through Shopville, Stab and Squib and then across the Daniel Boone National Forest to I-75 just below the weigh station south of London. The route would be mostly new construction.

Nobody supposedly in the know will comment, but upgrading Ky. 80 to interstate standards suggests existing Ky. 80 might be the I-66 route instead of the aforementioned corridor through the national forest. Many at the onset said improving Ky. 80 was the sensible way to go.

There is not much serious money in the recently approved highway plan for the Ky. 80 widening project. Funding for most sections is labeled “SP,” designating state funds of which there is little or none in a extremely tight and contentious budget for the next two years.

According to a Federal HIghway Administration website, the interstate system is 46,876 miles long. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 imposed a statutory limitation on the interstate mileage that would be built with interstate construction funds under the new program (41,000 miles at the time). Later legislation increased the limitation to 43,000 miles, of which a total of 42,795 miles has been used. Separate legislation allows the Federal Highway Administration to approve additional mileage if it meets full interstate standards and would be a logical addition or connection. Beyond the 42,795 miles, this additional mileage is not "chargeable"— that is, it is not eligible for interstate construction funds under the 1956 Act, as amended, although a state may use other federal-aid funds to help with construction.

  However, (and this hopefully is not editorial comment), the section of Ky. 80 between Somerset and London has recently been designated Hal Rogers Parkway (notice the big green signs), and the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee has a way of getting things done, and getting roads to travel in his direction.

 This is what the recently General Assembly approved road plan says about east Ky. 80:

  • There is $10 million for design next year and $10 million for right-of-way acquisition in 2018 for the aforementioned section from U.S. 27 over to Ky. 80 at Barnesburg. Types of funds for these projects are labeled “SP,” meaning state funds from a cupboard that is bare There is also $1.47 million for construction this year on what the plan calls the northeast bypass around Somerset. This apparently would be upgrading money from federal demonstration funds allocated to Kentucky.

  • The plan earmarks $24.7 million in 2018 to design Ky. 80 to interstate standards from Somerset to the western approaches of Rockcastle River. State funds for this project are in the “SP,” category, meaning no money is available from the state.

• Another $5.1 million is in the highway plan in 2018 to design the Rockcastle River bridge and approaches to interstate standards. Here again, no state money is available.

  Two more long-suffering projects are in the highway plan: Elimination of “Mean S Curve” on Ky. 196 west of Nancy and some median safety improvements on U.S. 27 between Somerset Boat Dock and Lost Lodge roads. No state money is available for these improvements.