By John L. Moore, Central Kentucky News-Journal
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has released an update to the local highway plan, which provides estimated time frames and information on funding sources for various projects. Included among those projects is the Heartland Parkway, which will allow trucks hauling products and materials faster passage between Taylor, Adair and Marion counties, making the area more attractive to companies looking for a place to locate their business.
“The improved traffic flow, safety and economic commerce will greatly benefit Taylor County and the surrounding area,” said Ron McMahan, executive director of the Team Taylor County Economic Development Authority. “Employers are continuously looking for ways to keep their facilities a low-cost center, and transportation costs are generally their second-highest expense, behind payroll.”
Though the benefits of these projects are clear, securing the funding was a bit of an ordeal this year, as state legislators passed an emergency one-year budget amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Because of the coronavirus, we had to completely pivot during the session once we saw what was happening in the middle of March,” said State Sen. Max Wise, of Campbellsville. “It caused us to have to change everything, not just the road plan, but everything in the state budget. We can’t predict or project what revenue is going to be — or what any of our finances are going to look like — as a state, so we decided to just do a one-year budget.”
Asked if he felt the Heartland Parkway project might face challenges in receiving state funding next year when the legislature convenes to draft another one-year budget to finish out the two-year budget period, he couldn’t be sure, but he promised to advocate for it the same way he has since he was first elected.
“As long as I’m in the legislature, I’m going to continue to fight for my district and fight for projects like this. We’ve already been able to see the benefits — if you travel from Campbellsville to Columbia, you can see how beneficial it has been for those roads — and I’ve had constituents thank me for the work we’ve done at the state level to get the project approved.”
State Rep. John “Bam” Carney, also of Campbellsville, is a large part of the ‘we’ Wise is referring to.
Though he’s still hospitalized and wasn’t able to attend the 2020 legislative session, Carney told the CKNJ he was “extremely thankful to be in a position to work with federal and state officials in coming up with ways to help fund the Heartland Parkway.”
“I want to give thanks to Sen. Max Wise for his hard work on securing this funding in such a difficult budget year,” McMahan said, “not just for his work in the Senate but also for working diligently with the House to communicate Rep. Carney’s support of these road projects in his absence.”
Brad Bottoms, a project development branch manager for KYTC’s Department of Highways, said the department is doing its best to work with the uncertainties of a one-year budget.
“This time around, since they only passed a one-year budget and not a two-year budget, there’s a lot of unknowns there,” he said. “Having a two-year highway plan with only a one-year budget behind it — well, we’re not sure what that means for next year, but regardless, the budget is just the dollar amount we have to work with, so we’re still working.”
As part of the Heartland Parkway project, a portion of Ky. 55 between Lebanon and Springfield was converted into a two-plus-one last year and work began to convert Ky. 55 into a two-plus-one road from Campbellsville to Columbia. Work on that began in July of last year and is expected to wrap up this fall.
In addition to improving Ky. 55, the Heartland Parkway also includes a new Campbellsville Bypass which speeds up travel by allowing vehicles coming from Columbia and Lebanon to skip the stoplights on Broadway in Campbellsville.
Section one of the new bypass, which connects Ky. 55 to Ky. 70, was let to construction in September of last year and is expected to finish up sometime in 2021. Once the first section is completed, work will start on the second section, which connects Ky. 70 and Ky. 658 to U.S. 68. Funding for the second part of the project in the amount of $12.1 million will come from 2021 Federal Construction Funds.
U.S. 68 from Greensburg to Campbellsville will be renovated in 2021 with a focus on enhanced safety and passing using $500,000 in state design funds, while U.S. 68 from Campbellsville to Lebanon will be made into a two-plus-one road using a federal BUILD Grant and 2022 Federal Construction Funds.
Aside from the Heartland Parkway project, the highway plan also stated that KY 210 is slated for a $2 million upgrade in 2022, using state design funds to enhance safety and improve travel time between Taylor County and LaRue County.