By John L. Ross
Nearly $170 million in state dollars could potentially be pumped into the Tri-County region for various road improvement projects by 2020.
On Wednesday, Governor Steve Beshear sent the Kentucky General Assembly a six-year Recommended Highway Plan that, if enacted, would provide nearly $7 billion of state and federal funding for transportation improvements statewide.
But it has to be enacted first.
“Our transportation system carries the life blood of our Commonwealth,” Beshear said. “Our commerce, economic development, education, community growth – our very quality of life – all depend on a transportation infrastructure that is as modern and safe as we can make it. Our Recommended Highway Plan represents a critical investment in that infrastructure.”
Several potential Tri-County road projects made it to the list.
Knox County could see nearly $22.2 million from state coffers, covering nine different projects throughout the county.
The biggest chunk of those monies would fund the “major widening” of U.S. 25E from the Corbin Bypass to the Knox/Laurel County line. If funded, the $12.4 million project would not begin the construction phase until approximately 2017, but the goal is to improve safety along that stretch “by providing improved access management.”
Another big dollar project for Knox County is to construct turning lanes, sidewalks and curb improvements, as well as drainage system improvements, along Manchester Street in Barbourville, at the Union College campus. That project has a little more than $2.6 million earmarked for that. Construction on that project, if funded, would not begin until 2015.
A third project for the county, if funded, would be the widening of KY 11 Railroad Bridge at U.S. 25E. That project is currently in its construction phase and is scheduled for completion this year. That project is estimated to be a bit more than $2.1 million.
Other road projects which could potentially be funded include the following:
— Replace the bridge as well as the approaches on KY 2418 in the Heidrick community over the Little Richland Creek, which has become a safety issue. That project is estimated to cost $760,000 and is slated for construction this year.
— Replace another bridge on KY 3437 over East Fork Big Indian Creek about a tenth of a mile west of KY 1232 in Gray. That bridge is considered “structurally deficient,” and is estimated to cost about $700,000. That improvement is listed as in the construction phase for this year.
— A third bridge replacement project near Stinking Creek Road and Browns Branch Road in the Scalf area of Knox County. The cost to replace that bridge is estimated to be $1.24 million, and it is slated to begin the construction phase in 2015.
— Another project slated for possible funding is raising KY 459 above the established flood plain, which includes raising the Bull Run Creek Bridge. That project is needed to address safety issues and is slated for the construction phase this year. The price tag for this project is approximately $1.5 million.
— Another section of KY 459 is also slated for possible funding — and it’s adjacent to the aforementioned KY 459 project. That project also involved raising the road out of the flood plain to address safety concerns. That project also is scheduled to begin its construction phase this year. The cost of that portion of the work is slated to be $700,000.
— The last listing for Knox County is to install railroad crossing gates on School Street in Artemus. This is to address a safety need and will cost approximately $175,000.
Laurel County could see the biggest chunk of state road dollars in the Tri-County area — a bit more than $106.2 million.
Of course, that all hinges on the general assembly approving the whole package.
The largest portion of those monies would be earmarked for U.S. 25 congestion relief — approximately $35.1 million. Some discussion, including public discussion, has taken place concerning this project. The plan is to widen U.S. 25 to five lanes from KY 1006 to KY 2069, then construct a connector from U.S. 25 to KY 229. Improvements would then be slated for KY 229 toward KY 192. Also part of the plan is to build a back entrance to South Laurel High School from the KY 192 bypass. This project is scheduled to enter the construction phase some time in 2016.
Two other projects exist in that same area which could also potentially see funding — both are road-widening projects.
One of those projects is to widen KY 192 from KY 1006 to U.S. 25 in London. The plan states that this proposed widening will increase capacity, improve freight movement, improve safety and provide access management. The total cost of that project is estimated at $19.1 million, and construction, if funded, is slated to begin sometime in 2016.
The other one of the projects concerns widening U.S. 25E from the Knox/Laurel County line to KY 770. This project, once completed, is expected to address safety issues, capacity concerns, and access management — but the construction phase, if funded, would not begin until 2017. The price tag for this project is slightly more than $14.7 million.
South Laurel High School could see a second project benefit the facility — Beshear’s plan includes a $6.3 million back entrance to the school with access to both KY 192 and KY 363. The construction phase for this improvement project is scheduled to begin in 2015, provided the funds are in place.
Other projects listed for Laurel County include:
— Building a “roundabout” on KY 363 right at KY 1006 to increase safety and eliminate a potential hazard. The $1.46 million project is scheduled to begin the construction phase this year.
— Replace the bridge on KY 578 between McWhorter Road and Leonard Gilliam Road that spans Raccoon Creek. The bridge is considered “structurally deficient” and if funded, would enter the construction phase some time in 2016. The estimated cost of this project is $1.515 million.
— I-75 in Laurel County could see a bridge project too — but this one wouldn’t begin the construction phase until 2018. The project would replace the northbound I-75 bridge which crosses over the Laurel River about two miles north of Exit 29. Estimated costs for this project top $5 million.
— Replace the bridge on Dog Branch School Road which crosses over Sinking Creek, which the plans states is necessary for reliability purposes. The construction phase of this $1.35 million project is slated for 2017.
— Another bridge replacement on the plan concerns KY 312 northwest of Keavy. That replacement project concerns the bridge spanning Craig Creek near Turner and Johnson roads. The construction phase of this $325,000 project, if funded, would not begin until 2019.
— Another Laurel County bridge listed on the plan is on U.S. 25 between Robinson Creek Road and Laurel Whitley Road spanning Robinson Creek. This project does not involve replacement — the idea with this project is to increase the capacity of the bridge itself. This project has a $7.250 million price tag and if funded, could begin its construction phase next year.
The final two project listed for Laurel County both concern frontage roads along KY 80. The first one is for a frontage road to be built along I-75 between Exits 38 and 41. That project is estimated to cost more than $10.8 million, and the construction phase, if approved, would begin as early as next year. The other frontage road would be built near St. Joseph - London. That road would be built from Parker Road to 5th Street and will cost approximately $3.13 million. The construction phase of this frontage road project could begin as early as this year, if the project receives funding.
Whitley County only has five projects that made it to Beshear’s plan — but the funding potential tops $40.5 million.
The biggest chunk of those dollars would fund the reconstruction of KY 92 from near the Whitley/McCreary County line to just east of Old Jellico Creek Road — about 4 miles.
The estimated price tag for this project is $23.8 million, and if funded, the construction phase is scheduled to launch in 2016. This section of road is west of Williamsburg.
The Whitley County part of the Corbin area could also see significant improvement if Beshear’s plan get general assembly approval. It involves Cumberland Falls Highway from the Corbin Bypass to 5th Street Road. This would be “a major widening” of the road that would potentially address congestion, freight movement and access along U.S. 25W from KY 727 (Fifth Street Road) to the bypass. The construction phase for this project is not scheduled to launch until some time in 2017, if funded. The estimated cost for this project is slightly more than $13.4 million.
Other Whitley County projects potentially on the funding table include:
— The installation of a guard rail along KY 204 from about a mile and a half north of the intersection with Main Street in Williamsburg to about a half-mile south of the intersection with U.S. 25W. This is needed to increase safety along that route while eliminating potential road hazards. This project could begin the construction phase this year, and has a price tag of $140,000.
— A bridge replacement project, one of many, is also listed on Whitey County’s “to do” list. This bridge is on Verne Road and crosses over Patterson Creek, near the intersection of KY 904. The bridge is considered “structurally deficient,” and will cost approximately $1.15 million. The construction phase for this project is scheduled to kick off this year, if funded.
— The last listed Whitley County project involves Williamsburg’s South 10th Street. This project reconstructs that street south of Bailey’s Curve to the intersection with south Second Street in order to straighten the roadway and raise it out of the flood plain. This project is all prepared to go, according to Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison, who said at the January city council meeting all they are waiting for is the go-ahead from the state. This project will cost just under $3 million and is slated for the construction phase this year, if funded.
Whitley County Projects Director Amber Owens said some project like this get paid for initially by the county, but then the county gets reimbursed the monies from state coffers.
It was unknown whether any of the aforementioned Tri-County projects would fall into that category at press time.
Larger statewide projects listed include widening and extending the Mountain Parkway for economic development in Eastern Kentucky, completion of the six-laning of Interstate 65 and continuation of the Downtown Crossing bridge and interchange project on the Ohio River in Louisville.
The proposed plan also would provide for badly needed new bridges across Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake, funding to facilitate the Brent Spence Bridge project in Northern Kentucky and continuation of long-awaited projects to complete the I-69 Corridor in Western Kentucky.
The Recommended Highway Plan honors commitments made in the 2012 Highway Plan while providing a way to accommodate some major, new initiatives, such as four-laning and extending the Mountain Parkway from Campton to Prestonsburg and setting aside funding to facilitate the Brent Spence Bridge project in Northern Kentucky.
For both of those projects, the plan recommends toll revenue bond funding, as is being used in Louisville for the Downtown Crossing.