HAZARD—Eastern Kentucky may be seeing an infrastructure upgrade in the next few years after Gov. Steve Beshear announced this week his proposal to widen and extend the Mountain Parkway by 2020 as part of this year’s Kentucky Highway Plan.
“Eastern Kentucky faces a multitude of challenges, made all the more urgent by the rapidly shifting economy. Our people demand a thorough strategy that incorporates efforts to improve economic development and infrastructure for this region,” Beshear said in a press conference Wednesday. “Four-laning the remainder of the Mountain Parkway and extending it is a critical step in that process.”
The plan to revamp the 51-year-old parkway would cost around $750 million over the next seven years, and would likely be paid for — in part — by collecting tolls, once again making the parkway a toll road.
Perry County Judge-Executive Denny Ray Noble said he thought the plan would accomplish something that has been needed for years — expanding the two-lane portion of the highway to four-lanes and then extending the highway all the way to Prestonsburg — truly connecting the state from east to west. However, he said he was unsure, since the Mountain Parkway does not pass by Perry County, if the county and the rest of Southeastern Kentucky would reap as many benefits as have been touted since the announcement.
“We desperately, in order to get jobs into Perry County, Letcher County, Leslie, Knott, and these areas, we need a four-lane too … Right now, our infrastructure is poor, and that’s the biggest problem we have with getting jobs,” he said. “In order for me, as county judge, and these other counties’ judges in these other counties, to get jobs into Eastern Kentucky we’ve got to have infrastructure.”
Noble explained that many large companies have decided not to put up shop in Perry County and surrounding counties because they can save 20 percent or more on costs by going to counties with direct access to Interstate 75.
“No doubt that everyone wants it to come to their community, we all do,” Noble said. “Do I feel like we need it first? Of course I do.”
Noble said it is for this reason that he has been working with local State Representative Fitz Steele and State Senator Brandon Smith on a plan to widen Highway 15 into a four-lane road, running through Perry to Letcher County, a proposal that will be considered during this year’s legislative session.
“That’s what we’re hoping for. Are we going to get it? I don’t know. Money’s tight, and there are some hard decisions out there that has to be made, real tough decisions, at the county level, state level,” he said. “I think right now our senator and representative is doing everything they can to get a four-lane highway through Hazard into Letcher County.”
Noble said he thought if the parkway was expanded it would no doubt open doors for infrastructure opportunities in the Southeastern Kentucky region, though the benefits may not be felt as quickly here as in a county the parkway would run through.
“It’s like running these waterlines, someone’s going to get it first, someone’s going to get it last. But hopefully we’ll be next,” he said. “My personal opinion, it should be more centralized, and Perry county is centralized … I think it (the highway) should come to the more centralized part of Eastern Kentucky, and then spread out.”
And though the parkway expansion might not be immediately beneficial to Southeastern Kentucky, Noble said he would not stand in the way of it.
“I don’t really oppose anything that helps out people in Eastern Kentucky,” he said.