Berea city officials say prospects are looking good for the second phase of the Berea Bypass since the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Governor Andy Beshear put the project back into the state's six-year road plan. Whether the Kentucky legislature will fund the project remains to be seen, and local officials are calling on citizens to express their support.
"We just want to remind you to speak with our legislators and make sure we get this thing done," City Administrator David Gregory told the Berea City Council Tuesday, echoing the sentiments of council member David Rowlette, who urged citizens contact their elected officials in Frankfort in support of fully funding the bypass.
This latest push stems from an effort that began approximately three years ago, when prospects were looking grim for the second phase of the project. Berea had fallen out of the state's six-year transportation plan, and hope of completing the bypass seemed remote at best. In 2018, the Berea Chamber of Commerce planned a visit with elected officials in Frankfort. Berea Chamber of Commerce Executive Director David Rowlette (now a city council member) and then-president Jennifer Napier joined then-council members Bruce Fraley and Councilman Jim Davis to meet with Blake Brickman, former Governor Matt Bevin's chief of staff, and Greg Thomas, who at that time was Secretary of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. The group met in the office of Senator Jared Carpenter and included one of the state's senior transportation engineers.
City Administrator Randy Stone had prepared a one-page fact sheet, highlighting the history of the project, which dated back to 1988.
"We explained why completing the bypass to Kentucky 21 is critical not only to Berea, but also because we are really a regional hub for employment," Fraley recalled. Additionally, Fraley explained the project's potential to relieve traffic congestion in Berea, including Chestnut Street, Glades Road and near Silver Creek Elementary School.
State officials were receptive to Berea's arguments, and they advised the group to return to Frankfort the following Tuesday to meet with Representative Ken Upchurch from Somerset and Representative Sal Santoro from Florence, both of whom were on the house transportation committee. The project was then penciled back into the proposed budget, and Napier said from then on, there was a steady effort to remind state officials of the project. That culminated in last week's announcement when Berea Mayor Bruce Fraley announced the project was back on the state's six-year plan, fully funding the stretch from U.S. 25 N. to Highway 1016, then from Highway 1016 to Highway 21, to the tune of $23.7 million.
Fraley also credited the help of Madison County Judge/Executive Reagan Taylor, who was scheduled to meet with Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 7 officials and representatives of Bluegrass Area Development District in March of 2019. Taylor invited Fraley to go along and make his case, helping build momentum for the recent decision.
Surprising Berea officials was the amount and timetable of the funding when the project was put back into the budget by Governor Andy Beshear and State Transportation Cabinet Secretary Jim Gray. The second phase was only designated to be from U.S. 25 to Highway 1016 for $12 million. Then in 2022, the bypass was to be extended from Hwy 1016 to Highway 21 for another $12 million. Instead, both portions are fully budgeted with a possible starting date in 2020.
At the moment, the Berea Bypass is designated the number one project in Madison County, and the only shovel ready project of its kind in the state. But Fraley said it isn't a done deal just yet.
"Just because you are funded does not mean the project will begin or will be completed in 2020. We've got the top project in Madison County, but there are 120 counties that have a top project. But I believe our project scored high enough that there's a very good chance that we will see that project let or released for bid in 2020. It has to go through the state house and the state senate to win approval for the budget, but I'm still working on it," Fraley said.
On Tuesday night, Council member Jim Davis expressed his thanks to legislators who helped revive what was widely thought to be a dead project. "There are two people that have helped us a lot. One was Senator Jared Carpenter, and the other was Representative [Robert] Goforth, who were both very instrumental in helping us. I just wanted to give them credit for the work they have done."