By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
The state Transportation Cabinet would like to widen a stretch of U.S. 25 from the Levi Jackson State Park entrance down to the North Corbin intersection locally known as “Malfunction Junction.”
That is why they are having a public information meeting on the project today (Thursday) from 5-7 p.m. at Hunter Hills Elementary School.
Several people who are against the proposed Corbin Bypass Extension — including spokesman Jeff Sparks — say the planned work to improve Route 25 in Laurel County will do the job, and eliminates the need to extend the bypass.
Sparks said that is why they will also be at the Hunter Hills meeting.
“That project from Malfunction Junction to Levi Jackson is much further along and it’s going to happen. Why spend $200 million on redundancy? You’re only gaining minimal with spending so much money. We will have our people, those who don’t want the bypass extension built, there at the school during the meeting,” Sparks said.
The public information meeting on U.S. 25 is being held in order to get feedback on the proposal of widening the highway, which will begin at the intersection of Route 25 and Ky. 1006 at the south end of London. From there it goes south to the intersection of U.S. 25 and U.S. 25E (Cumberland Gap Parkway) in the unincorporated north end of Corbin.
Officials say the meeting’s purpose is to “introduce potential alignments and to seek input from citizens and stakeholders,” and is open to the public. It will be conducted in what’s called an “open format,” which means people can attend at any point during the two-hour session.
Sparks’ group, STOP Corbin Bypass Extension, says the project they are against would be “redundant” with the proposed widening of Route 25 in Laurel County.
Plans show the bypass extension starting at the junction of the current Corbin Bypass (Ky. 3041) and U.S. 25E in Corbin’s east end, taking it in a northerly direction through parts of Knox and Laurel counties, before it arcs back into a new exit near I-75 at mile marker 31.
And he added, it would be expensive.
“The actual cost of the road, the bypass extension, is an estimated $200 million. Then there’s the feasibility study, which is costing $500,000. It’s a waste of money and it’s redundant with the projects already planned in Laurel County and London,” Sparks said. “At first glance, when you hear word of a bypass, you think of progress, and I’m in favor of that. But looking into it deeper it’s not going to bring progress.
“When you research it, it’s not even great,” Sparks added. “There are other areas that may benefit, but in this case, the Trademart Center and areas on the Cumberland Gap Parkway to Exit 29 will be bypassed. By moving traffic away from them, you’ll lose customers, commerce and tax dollars. Think of all those businesses like gas stations, restaurants and so forth along the parkway. They’ll have trouble making payments in general, and they’ll have difficulty staying in business.”
Earlier this month, Sparks and the group got support from the Corbin City Commission and Mayor Willard McBurney during the commission’s meeting.
“At the meeting, I told them the proposed bypass extension would bypass Corbin. The mayor told me they felt the same way and were opposed to it. I was not surprised. I was happy to have their support. It’s not something that will benefit the city,” Sparks noted.
Sparks, a Knox County resident who lives in the Stonegate subdivision, said his home and others in that subdivision would be affected by three of the four planned routes of the bypass extension. He has also talked with the highway department and government officials to explain his view of the project to them.
“Stonegate will be affected, along with Wildwood, Cobblestone and Briarwood. And it will touch Sweet Hollow and other subdivisions,” Sparks said. “Along with the mayor and the Corbin City Commission, I talked last Wednesday in Barbourville to Judge Hall (J.M. Hall, Knox County Judge-Executive) and he was very kind, cordial and receptive. He didn’t state his position, but he listened.
“And I have talked to the Highway Department in Manchester and the project’s consulting firm,” Sparks added. “They’ve also been cordial and receptive, absolutely. A couple of them told me that from their talking with people in the community, this project, the Corbin Bypass Extension project, is not needed at this time.”
In recent weeks, he has worked his opposition of the project into a grass roots campaign by going door-to-door in subdivisions affected. Sparks also has a page on Facebook at facebook.com/stopcorbinbypassextension, and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org, if anyone needs more information.
“I’m surprised that so many people will be affected by the bypass extension and didn’t even know. When I go door-to-door, I show them the routes and show them where their home is, and after they see the path, most of them are very alarmed,” Sparks said. “For those affected, it’s emotional. But for others it’s not. I’m trying to look at this rationally. With the widening of Route 25 in Laurel County planned, there’s no need for the bypass extension. It would waste taxpayers’ money, and the city of Corbin will be adversely affected, robbing them of commerce and tax money. It’s not going to help anybody.”