FRANKFORT — House Speaker Greg Stumbo said that Wednesday was his second-best day ever in the Capitol, surpassed only by the 1990 passages of the Kentucky Education Reform Act.
The occasion? Gov. Steve Beshear’s announcement of a $753 billion plan to finish widening the Mountain Parkway to four lanes by 2020.
Finishing that job would be a monumental achievement for the future of Eastern Kentucky, Stumbo said.
“Setting a concrete schedule to four-lane the Mountain Parkway would be the most far-reaching thing the General Assembly and Governor Beshear could do for Eastern Kentucky this legislative session,” Stumbo said. “It’s time has come, and I want to thank Gov. Beshear not only for his support of this project, but also for his dedicated efforts in other areas to help this region prosper.”
Plans call for four-laning not only the Mountain Parkway, but also Routes 460 and 114 between Salyersville and Prestonsburg, creating for the first time a direct, modern highway connecting the Big Sandy region to Central Kentucky.
“As its name implies, the Mountain Parkway has been the principal connector between our eastern mountains and Bluegrass region for generations,” Beshear said. “It’s time Eastern Kentucky was provided the same, basic, four-lane access afforded to other regions of the Commonwealth. Not only does that provide access for Eastern Kentuckians to reach other parts of our state, but it creates an easier path for tourists and investors to stream into this vibrant region.”
Nearly $600 billion of the project’s cost would be paid by state and federal highway money. However, the remaining $158 million will likely be financed through the return an unpopular, bygone feature of the highway — toll booths.
Beshear said no effort will be made to begin charging tolls on the highway during the current legislative session. He said they would not be needed until the project nears completion and would likely be charged along the entire route between Winchester and Prestonsburg.
The project will be broken up into four phases, with the first phase taking place along the most dangerous section of the road, between Route 205 in Morgan County to the Burning Fork Bridge, in Salyersville.
The second phase would reconstruct the “Restaurant Row” section of Salyersville, from the end of the Mountain Parkway to the Route 460 turnoff to Paintsville.
Phase 3 would widen the road between Prestonsburg and Salyersville, while Phase 4 would finish the job, from Route 205 in Morgan County to Campton.
While the project will be expensive, Beshear said it is critical to the future of Eastern Kentucky.
“Eastern Kentucky faces a multitude of challenges, made all the more urgent by the rapidly shifting economy,” Beshear said. “Our people demand a thorough strategy that incorporates efforts to improve economic development and infrastructure for this region. Four-laning the remainder of the Mountain Parkway and extending it is a critical step in that process.”