When the Kentucky House of Representatives voted on its road plan a little more than a week ago, there were some in the media saying that we had "delayed" the planned Mountain Parkway expansion.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The reality is that the $755-million project would move forward immediately under the House proposal; our approach just offers a more realistic timeframe than the six years that had been first discussed. Additionally, if our plan becomes law, tolls also would be unlikely, which would avoid a return to the days when everyone had to pay to enter and leave the region.
That's not just a nuisance; it's a sizeable barrier for counties facing double-digit unemployment.
As the new chair of the House committee overseeing the state's road plan, I now have a much deeper appreciation of what it takes to maintain, improve and, just as important, pay for a highway system that is routinely ranked as one of the best in the nation.
This past year has been a learning experience, with the past two months being the most intense. After closely studying the governor's recommended biennial highway plan, I discovered that the total amount of state-funded projects exceeded available funds by more than $1 billion. While some over-programming is appropriate because of various delays, the disadvantage of having too large of a gap is that it makes it less likely projects will be completed as scheduled. We in the House are trying to avoid that, so that communities can know when to realistically expect road work. No one is helped when needed improvements remain in limbo for years.
It was with that in mind that the House laid out its revised time line to extend and expand the Mountain Parkway. We propose splitting it into nine phases, with three starting this budget cycle and the remainder coming through the early 2020s. That would keep the expansion moving forward quickly while not delaying projects elsewhere in the state, which would likely occur if the time line is not changed.
Whatever is ultimately decided on the parkway, I want to thank Gov. Steve Beshear for being such a strong advocate and taking the lead in moving it forward. Numerous governors have promised this expansion for decades, but now the end is truly in sight. The question is no longer "if" but "when."
Once complete, the Mountain Parkway expansion and extension will give Eastern Kentucky an interstate-quality road that will help us stay better connected with the rest of the commonwealth.
It's time has come, and there is no bigger champion for it than those of us in the House. The last thing we would ever want to do is delay what promises to be one of Kentucky's biggest accomplishments this decade. We just want to make sure it is done the right way.
Rep. Leslie Combs is a Democrat from Pikeville.