By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT — Every governor from Bert Combs to Ernie Fletcher promised to finish building the Mountain Parkway to Prestonsburg, according to House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.
So, naturally, it was the current governor who made no such promise, Steve Beshear, who announced Wednesday he’ll recommend four-laning and extending the parkway from Campton all the way to Prestonsburg.
The project is expected to cost $753.6 million and will be paid in part by collecting tolls after its expected completion in 2019 or 2020.
“This has been the most-promised road in America’s history,” Stumbo said at the news conference. “Every governor since Gov. Combs has promised to build it, but thank God, Gov. Beshear is going to carry through.”
Beshear had earlier said he wanted to complete the project as part of the initiative coming out of a recent summit in Pikeville looking for ways to boost eastern Kentucky’s economy, which has historically lagged behind the rest of the state and now is devastated by the downturn in the coal industry.
The Mountain Parkway opened 51 years ago and is four lanes from Interstate 64 at Winchester to Campton. It then becomes two lanes to Salyersville, where it ends and connects to KY 114. Beshear said the six-year project will ultimately extend the parkway in four lanes to Prestonsburg in four stages.
The first section will begin at KY 205 in Morgan County and extend the four lanes to Burning Fork Bridge near Salyersville in Magoffin, said Mike Hancock, Transportation Cabinet secretary. He expects construction to be underway on that section by 2015.
The road, which now ends at Salyersville, will then be extended through a congested retail section of that city. In the third stage, construction will extend four lanes from Salyersville to Prestonsburg, utilizing the existing routes US 420 and KY 114.
The fourth and final stage will be to complete a section from Campton to KY 205. In all, 46 miles of roadway will be expanded and extended.
Prestonsburg is connected to Pikeville by four lanes on KY 114 and US 23, so motorists will be able to travel on four lanes all the way from Lexington to Pikeville.
Hancock said the stages were designed to take advantage of some previous construction projects along the parkway’s path. Beginning the construction’s first phase “in the middle” of the project was not a way to prod future governors or legislature’s to complete the project, he said.
The first construction phase covers a stretch of the parkway where the highest number of accidents occurs, Stumbo pointed out.
Beshear said the project will be financed with $595.6 million in conventional state and federal funding sources and another $158 million in toll revenue bonds.
When complete, there will be tolls along the entire parkway from Winchester to Prestonsburg. But Beshear and Hancock said the tolls won’t be necessary until near the total project’s end. Hancock said he anticipates tolling will generate roughly $150 million to $160 million or 20 percent of the project. It’s unknown at this point how much in tolls will be charged, he said.
Beshear said extending and four-laning the road is a “critical step in making eastern Kentucky a destination while also increasing its competitiveness.”
When asked if the project might siphon off funds which may have been planned for other parts of the state, both Beshear and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said that shouldn’t be a problem.
Stivers noted the construction will occur in four stages over six years so that each biennial budget will require only between $150 million to $200 million in funding.
When Stivers said the project stages might be undergo some “tweaking,” Stumbo interjected that he’d like to see it tweaked to include a ramp at Winchester allowing motorists to exit east toward Morehead and Mt. Sterling as well as west toward Lexington.
Beshear agreed the price tag is significant and will require “a balancing act” as he and lawmakers put together a road plan budget.
“But it is an amount of money that we need to spend, because it is time we do this for eastern Kentucky,” Beshear said.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.