A report released this week from the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development calls for a chunk of coal severance funds to be set aside for future use, urges a plan to develop the economy of Eastern Kentucky, and for the regional economy to begin a move beyond coal.
All of these things sound good, and we can certainly get behind them. But something also holding us back which isn’t getting a lot of attention remains our system of highways, and most pressing is our lack of an interstate or continuous four-lane.
It is no secret that our regional economy has taken a major hit in the past two years, shedding just under 6,000 jobs in the coal industry. The MACED report hit the nail on the head, and we need to move beyond a one-note economy. But with our lack of interstate-quality highways locally, we’re always going to be behind other areas of the state in terms of attracting those new jobs.
We are hopeful that a plan recently floated by Rep. Fitz Steele to reinstate a project that would widen Highway 15 from Wolfe County to Hazard will be approved. Put simply, a better system of roads relates both to the reduced cost of doing business and the attractiveness of our region to job creators. At present, Highway 15 north of Hazard shrinks to two lanes all the way to Jackson, resulting in an hour’s drive to the Mountain Parkway.
Hazard is situated fortuitously on the crossroads of Highways 15 and 80, so the city acts as a hub for surrounding counties. But neither highway offers a complete four-lane north toward I-64 or west toward I-75. The closest interstate is in London more than an hour’s drive on Ky. 80, a road which alternates between four, three, and two lanes all the way to Laurel County.
Rep. Steele’s plan is something we need, and it could bring an interstate-quality highway to our area, making Perry County more attractive to outside businesses. Other counties in the region face similar issues and could benefit from similar attention.
At the same time, we’re also glad that local residents are not waiting on help from Frankfort. A plan by the county tourism office to transform Hazard into a river trail town, and a separate initiative to spruce up downtown Hazard and make it a center for the arts have the potential to boost the city’s local economy through tourism. A planned horse trail near Buckhorn Lake has the same potential for the county. These are initiatives we would like to see more of on the local level.
It is promising that people are working on a plan to better the economy of Eastern Kentucky, and we hope those in Frankfort who thus far have shown little interest in this topic will come around and see the importance of improving the region’s economy, and how that improvement can have a positive impact on the rest of the state.
— The Hazard Herald