If the new Madison County elementary school on Boonesboro Road opens as scheduled in August 2018, traffic snarls at Interstate 75 Exit 95 will worsen.

And the situation may not improve for perhaps two years.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet doesn’t expect completion of a project to rebuild and enlarge the exit until 2020.

According to Natasha Lacy, Highway Department District 7 spokesperson, the state “has just begun the right-of-way phase” of the project, and that is expected to take the remainder of 2017.

A construction bid could be awarded the following year with completion of the new exit sometime in 2020.

When the state Transportation Cabinet released its six-year road plan in early February 2016, as the General Assembly was meeting in its biennial budget session, it estimated the Exit 95 project would cost $17.72 million.

The new exit would have a five-lane overpass as well as expanded entry and exit ramps, according to the plan. However, it listed a 2022 completion date.

At one time, the project was schedule to begin in 2014. But in May 2013, then Judge/Executive Kent Clark revealed in his State of the County address that rebuilding of the exit had been put off until a decision had been made on how to route the controversial Nicholasville connector.

Environmentalists and historic preservationists both opposed the connection that would have cut through the scenic Kentucky River palisades and pass near the Valley View Ferry and White Hall State Historic Site.

In a Feb. 18 Richmond Register column, Judge/Executive Reagan Taylor said state officials had told him the Nicholasville connector was no longer under consideration and would not affect the Exit 95 project.

When asked about the project, the highway department’s district spokesperson would say only that the connector and all other major Madison County projects, except Exit 95, were “paused for prioritization.”

“The cost of the proposed projects are greatly exceeding the available funding,” The Register was told. “Therefore, decisions are a challenge. The prioritization process we will be utilizing should be helpful for planning future projects. We are hopeful that the 2018 Highway Plan will provide a balance.”

Asked about the pause when he addressed a Richmond Chamber of Commerce Luncheon on Thursday, House of Representatives Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said most major road projects were paused statewide.

Kentucky’s Highway Fund, which relies on revenue from the motor fuels tax, is “woefully underfunded,” Hoover said, and state officials were reviewing all projects.

Although the General Assembly two years ago put a floor under the percentage-based fuels tax, it still dropped 2.5 cents a gallon. Without the floor, it would have fallen 5 cents per gallon.

Each penny of the per-gallon tax produces about $30 million, Hoover said.

The governor is expected to call at least one special General Assembly session this year on both tax and state employee pension reforms, Hoover said. And the motor fuels tax and road fund issue may be taken up then.

Despite pausing major projects, one smaller Madison County job is proceeding. Work began Monday on a $676,467 project to replace the Kingston-Berea Road bridge over Hays Fork Creek. Completion is expected by mid-September.

Almost 14 months ago, as the General Assembly meet in its biennial budget session, the Bevin administration released a six-year road plan recommendation that included four other major Madison County projects and their estimated costs:

• Widening of US 25N in Berea, $6.22 million.

• Widening of US 25 south of Richmond to the US 25/421 split, $7.32 million.

• Improving and connecting KY 52 from Garrard County, $49.7 million.

• Completion of the Berea Bypass from US 25N to KY 21 east of the city, $22.42 million.

The plan was awaiting General Assembly approval and funding, Transportation Cabinet officials said in early February 2016.

On Tuesday, Berea City Administrator Randy Stone told the city council that the US 25N project now has an estimated cost of $8 million, and state officials want it scaled back by $2 million.

The cutback would be “problematic,” Berea Mayor Steve Connelly told The Register on Friday.

The project had previously been scaled back from five lanes to three.

While most people think of it as a transportation project, it is also a drainage project, which makes it more expensive, the mayor explained.

Because of the soil underlying most Berea roads, “They don’t last as long as they would otherwise,” Connelly said.

To get the most of an investment to improve roads, proper surface water drainage must be included, he said.

However, a road drainage project also must take into account the downstream area.

“If we increase the rate of water flow from a wider US 25N, that water will cause problems elsewhere in the drainage area,” Connelly said.

The city is already trying to deal will surface water drainage in the Rash Road/Glades Road area not far from US 25N and very near the Madison Southern High School/Foley Middle School campus, he added.

Scaling back the US 25N project and dealing properly with the drainage issue will be a challenge, the mayor said.

Reach Bill Robinson at 624-6608.

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