“Will new roads hurt Somerset
By BILL MARDIS, Editor Emeritus
Somerset – Somerset city officials are deeply concerned that evolution of Cumberland Parkway into I-66 and a developing circle of four-lane highways around Somerset will divert traffic away from the city’s thriving business district along six-lane U.S. 27.
Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler and City Engineer Alex Godsey during a meeting Monday with the Commonwealth Journal also expressed fear that closing a section of Cumberland Parkway west of Somerset and veering the parkway slightly northward as I-66 to an interchange with U.S. 27 south of Science Hill will take Somerset’s vital tourist trade north of the business district along U.S. 27.
“(U.S.) 27 is the lifeblood of Somerset,” said Girdler. He and Godsey worry that unprecedented highway construction in Pulaski County will rush tourists past Somerset in all directions and leave restaurants, service stations and other businesses along U.S. 27 gasping for precious tourist dollars.
Girdler emphasized time and time again that he is not opposed to I-66, but his concern is diverting traffic away from U.S. 27, the main business district in Somerset.
The first leg of the northern bypass (I-66) is under construction and is scheduled for completion late in 2010 or 2011. It will leave unused a half-mile section of existing Cumberland Parkway from the top of Fishing Creek hill east to the North Hart Road connector. This section of the Cumberland Parkway will be “abandoned” by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, according to District 8 engineers.
Godsey said he has been told by Highway Department engineers that interstate standards set by the U.S. Department of Transportation prohibit a Somerset access from the realigned Cumberland Parkway (I-66) onto the “abandoned” section of the existing parkway, even if it were left open to traffic.
Bill Chaney, branch manager for project delivery and preservation for the Highway Department’s District 8, said the closed section of the parkway will remain and there are procedures for it to be used by other governmental entities. As for exit and entrance ramps off and onto the realigned Cumberland Parkway at the top of Fishing Creek hill, Chaney said there will be major grade differences, indicating these types of ramps, even if permitted, would be expensive to construct.
Highway Department engineers contend there will be plenty of access into Somerset from I-66 (northern bypass). Motorists from the west headed to Somerset will simply take a ramp off I-66 at the southwestern bypass (Ky. 914) interchange and travel about 2,000 feet along southwestern bypass to a signaled intersection at existing Cumberland Parkway. The section of Cumberland Parkway (not a part of I-66) from just west of Hacker Road underpass east to Somerset will remain open, same as always.
Westbound motorist on Ky. 80 bypass may continue through traffic light No. 3 at U.S. 27 to a to-be-installed traffic light at the southwestern bypass; then turn right and travel about 2,000 feet onto a partial cloverleaf intersection with I-66.
Noting additional options with the new highway configuration, Chaney pointed out that motorists taking the ramp off the new Cumberland Parkway (northern bypass and I-66) onto the southwestern bypass (Ky. 914) may turn east along the existing Cumberland Parkway to U.S. 27 at Ky. 80 bypass (traffic light No. 3). Also, they may continue along the southwestern bypass and reach Somerset along Slate Branch Road, or Oak Hill Road, or follow the southwestern bypass to U.S. 27 at Beacon Hill Baptist Church where it joins the southeastern bypass.
Proponents of growth point out that hotels, motels and restaurants are sure to spring up at I-66 interchanges north of Somerset.
“This is long-term growth and none of the northern bypass is in the city,” said Girdler. He emphasized that it is his mission as mayor to do all he can to protect existing businesses in Somerset.
Frankly, Girdler says he doesn’t have a highway plan, and admits it’s probably too late for that. “What’s done has been done … the roads are under contract; being built.”
The mayor said he was incorrectly under the impression that the southwestern bypass would overpass the Cumberland Parkway to join the northern bypass. He learned differently when Highway Department engineers disclosed to the Commonwealth Journal that the Cumberland Parkway would be realigned to evolve into I-66 and a section of the parkway would be closed.
The mayor wonders what kind of signage, including billboards, would be effective in directing motorists off the interstate. Chaney said installation of green interstate signs will make motorists well aware of exits leading into Somerset.
The mayor concedes that interstate signage and exit ramps are typical of interstates in major cities, ” … but this is Somerset and U.S. 27 is Somerset,” he insists.
Girdler bemoaned the lack of an early plan for major expansions at interstate interchanges to the north.
“Who will build the infrastructure … who will extend water and sewer lines to these new businesses?” he asked.
Then, answering his own question, Girdler said the city of Somerset is the only governmental agency that can do it ” … and it will take $35 million, according to a study done by Somerset last year, to serve those interchanges,” the mayor noted. “Water districts don’t have financial resources to do it … they depend on grants,” he observed.
“We (Somerset Water Service) are now in a relatively short supply of water … not from the lake but in capacity of our water system,” said Girdler. He said a letter will go out next week to water districts “cutting off new growth outside the county.” Somerset supplies treated water to most of the rural districts, as well as the municipally owned Eubank Water System with about 5,000 customers in Pulaski, Lincoln and Casey counties. Some of the other rural water systems also extend across county lines.
“Any major (expansion) project, even in the county, will have to be approved by Somerset,” the mayor said.
Adding to Girdler’s concern about bypassing U.S. 27 is four-laning of Ky. 1247 from Ky. 914 (southeastern bypass) through Cedar Grove to a partial cloverleaf interchange with Ky. 90 and U.S. 27 in northern Burnside.
When the road through Cedar Grove is completed, motorists from northern cities, home of the Ohio Navy, can come south on Ky. 461 from I-75; take four-lane Ky. 80 bypass to Ky. 914 (southeastern bypass); then Ky. 1247 to Burnside, Monticello and points south without ever seeing the lights of Somerset.
Progress is being made to extend I-66 all the way to Ky. 80 at Barnesburg. Chaney said utilities are currently being moved along the route of the northern bypass (I-66) from U.S. 27 east to Ky. 39 and most of the design work has been done along the corridor from Ky. 39 to Ky. 80, about a mile and a quarter west of the intersection with Ky. 461. The section of I-66 from U.S. 27 to Ky. 39 is about ready for a construction contract as soon as money is available, Chaney said.
When I-66 (northern bypass) is completed to Ky. 80, motorists from the north will be able to pick up the new interstate at Barnesburg and bypass Somerset to the north. If headed south to points on Lake Cumberland at Burnside, Monticello or wherever, tourists can exit onto the southwestern bypass (Ky. 914) and travel through the Oak Hill community to U.S. 27 at Beacon Hill Baptist Church, again totally bypassing the Somerset business district on U.S. 27.
“I was told the purpose of an interstate (route) is to avoid Somerset traffic,” said Girdler, ” … and that doesn’t fly with me,” he declared. “We’ve got a marketing problem to keep people from continuing east to London or north to Lexington and passing by Somerset.”
Pulaski County Judge-Executive Barty Bullock said he plans to meet with Girdler and Godsey, and discuss the problem with 5th District Congressman Hal Rogers. I-66 is the brainchild of Rogers and the congressman maneuvered its route to serve Eastern Kentucky and Somerset.
Contacted Tuesday, Rogers said highway designs are done by engineers. “I’m not exactly familiar with the problem, but I’ll be happy to meet with them,” he said.”