Was Harlan County kicked out of the state without anyone telling us?

January 24, 2014

We are developing a sneaking suspicion that Harlan County has been removed from the official state maps at the Capitol.

There’s really no other way to explain how Gov. Steve Beshear could push a plan he announced last week to widen the Mountain Parkway from Campton to Prestonsburg when Harlan County has much greater transportation needs than the counties scheduled to benefit from the $754 million project. Beshear said the road expansion was vital to the economic growth of the region.

“It’s a long-overdue project for which leaders in eastern Kentucky have long advocated, to strengthen the region’s ability to attract jobs and visitors,” Beshear said at a news conference. To add to the insanity, the plan calls for an expansion of U.S. 460 and KY 114 around the Magoffin-Floyd line to four lanes.

Don’t we have anyone in Frankfort these days who can remind the governor that Harlan County’s needs, both transportation and economic, are much greater than any of the counties who will benefit from the Mountain Parkway expansion? The last time we looked, Harlan County had one of the state’s highest unemployment rates and has been hit harder than anyone by the decline in the coal industry.

There’s no way that any county in our state is in more need of a good highway and an economic boost than Harlan. How does it make sense to expand a two-lane state parkway to four lanes in Magoffin and Wolfe counties when Harlan County is still trying to get one decent road, either U.S. 119 to Bell County or U.S. 421 to Perry County. We can’t even get the last four miles of U.S. 421 to the Virginia line completed, a decade after it should have been finished.

Harlan County has declined from being the largest county in the eastern half of state in the 1930s because it was bypassed time and time again when other counties benefited from new roads. Hazard and London and Somerset and Pikeville continued to grow from decade to decade because they were tied together through massive highway projects that always bypassed Harlan.

Our county has given so much back to the state for decades with taxes through the coal mined here, helping build infrastructure in other parts of Kentucky. Harlan County’s coal miners took all the risks, both with their health and with their lives, and their children and grandchildren received nothing in return, forced to travel the same dangerous roads that we’ve been stuck with for decades.

The governor is fine with Harlan County and its 30,000 residents being stuck with dangerous two-lane roads but he apparently believes it’s a good idea for Wolfe County (Campton) and its 7,000 residents and Magoffin County (Salyersville) and its 13,000 residents to have a four-lane parkway. After a half century of being left behind, it’s time for Harlan County and its transportation needs to be addressed. Instead of the Mountain Parkway, the money should go toward a four-lane U.S. 119 from Harlan to Pineville, which would finally make the final section of 119 like the hundreds of miles on the same road between Whitesburg and Charleston, W.Va.

A four-lane road between Harlan and Hazard should be next on the priority list, tying Harlan County to the Hal Rogers Parkway. We’re sure the Harlan County Fiscal Court and all our vital and progressive city governments are already drafting letters of complaint to send to Beshear and our legislators, pointing out the long ignored transportation needs of Harlan Countians while asking them to check their maps to determine if we’ve indeed been kicked out of Kentucky.