Second phase of Newtown Pike extension to start in 2014, officials say

bfortune@herald-leader.comMarch 15, 2013 

The Kentucky Transportation Department is acquiring the last pieces of right-of-way for the next phase of Newtown Pike extension, between Versailles Road and South Broadway.

For a project that was on the drawing board for more than 40 years, it has moved along since work started in 2007, said Andrew Grunwald, Lexington's Newtown Pike project manager.

"So far we're on schedule," Grunwald said. "That's assuming we don't run into something unforeseen like a big sinkhole or a forgotten cemetery."

Construction for Phase 2 of the project is expected to begin early in 2014 and be completed in one year.

The state Transportation Cabinet is in charge of acquiring 52 parcels of land in a 1.2-mile stretch, most of which is abandoned railroad bed, said Stuart Goodpaster, project manager in the cabinet's District 7 office.

Harry Gordon Steel has accepted an offer for the purchase of its property and relocation of its business, Grunwald said. A remaining relocation challenge is finding a new home for the Nathaniel United Methodist Mission, now on DeRoode Street, which works with people in Davis Bottom, one of the city's most economically depressed areas.

Phase 2 of the Newtown Pike extension, estimated to cost $22 million for relocating utility lines and construction, is being funded with state and federal highway dollars. The money has been designated in the highway department's six-year highway construction plan, Goodpaster said.

The original concept of extending Newtown Pike was to give drivers another way to get from the north side of the city, around to South Broadway and Nicholasville Road without having to go through downtown, Mayor Jim Gray said.

The first leg of the project, between Main Street and Versailles Road, opened two weeks before the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games began on Sept. 25, 2010. It's called Oliver Lewis Way, after the jockey who rode Aristides to victory in the first Kentucky Derby.

The city and state pushed to get this stretch completed to make it easier for visitors arriving at Blue Grass Airport to get around the city and to the Kentucky Horse Park for WEG. This was originally scheduled as Phase 4, but it was built first because of WEG.

Grunwald said he did not know whether the name Oliver Lewis Way would be used for the rest of the Newtown Pike extension.

Even that short segment has improved traffic flow through downtown, Goodpaster said.

"Anybody who comes in Versailles Road and has to go to the north side of town already loves it," he said.

The Newtown Pike extension is coming about in part because former Mayor Jim Newberry made its completion a priority for his administration after he took office in early 2007.

While WEG provided impetus, he said it was far from the only reason for moving Newtown Pike forward.

"The community decided a long time ago that needed to happen. There was nothing novel about that. But I brought it to the table," he said.

In other words, the city needed to "stop talking about building the Newtown Pike extension and just do it," he said.

Newberry said he put the Newtown Pike extension on his top 10 list of things the city needed to focus on when he met with senior staff members and top city officials every Monday morning, and the project stayed on the list for 3½ years, he said.

He also worked to make the project a priority in Frankfort by going to see Transportation Cabinet officials, including cabinet secretary Bill Nighbert, on a regular basis "to remind them this was important to Lexington," Newberry said.

The city and state worked to get the Environmental Protection Agency studies completed, right-of-way acquired, design completed, funding raised and construction started.

"All of that was a major push. It needed that kind of push to overcome all of the impediments," Newberry said.

A major impediment for years was displacing and relocating residents in the Davis Bottom neighborhood.

"In the early 2000s, the idea of creating a Community Land Trust was brought to the table, and that was a critical piece of how to relocate the folks who would otherwise be displaced, and do it in a fashion the folks of Davis Bottom would be comfortable with," Newberry said.

The first of 14 rental units in Davis Bottom will be finished by spring 2014, said Barbara Navin, Community Land Trust liaison. Homes for sale will likely be finished by summer or fall of 2014, she said.

Gray has kept a focus on Newtown Pike.

Commissioner of Planning Derek Paulsen includes a progress report in his weekly report on activities in the planning department. Grundwald's full-time job is overseeing the rebuilding of Davis Bottom, including new infrastructure for the tiny community.

The city has hired a consulting firm to come up with a plan for converting several downtown streets from one-way to two-way.

"The traffic study that we're underway with now for the downtown will take into consideration the impact of completing Newtown from Versailles Road to Broadway," Gray said. "It will influence that downtown traffic study."

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251.Twitter: @BFortune2010.

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