In October 2013, the Kentucky Department of Transportation held a public hearing at the Adkins-Caudill Performing Arts Center to announce its decision to construct a new highway between Elliott and Rowan counties.
This culminated a six-year planning process during which many public hearings were held regarding a ridgeline section of Ky. 32. At all these hearings with one exception, the overwhelming public consensus was to repair the worst curves, make bicycle paths and build cut-offs so motorists could appreciate the extraordinary vistas from this road.
According to the DOT's "Your Turn" transportation survey, "an overwhelming number of participants would like the state to focus on maintaining and improving the existing highway system with a focus on bridges." Nonetheless, the only vote that counted appears to have been Rep. Rocky Adkins,' because construction of "Rocky's Road," as locals refer to it, is slated to begin.
While like all Kentuckians, including Adkins, we favor access to good jobs and safe roads, we think he and his fellow decision-makers have made a mistake going forward on this project.
If built, this road, consisting of nearly 14 miles of a two-lane highway over hilly terrain, will cost taxpayers $116 million, saving an average of 400 vehicles six minutes travel time.
There will be no bicycle, pedestrian or pull-off lanes for enjoying scenery, but then there will be no scenic beauty since, according to DOT, the equivalent of 17 football fields of fill will be scraped from the surrounding hills to build it.
All the potential for making Ky. 32 into a Kentucky Scenic Byway will be destroyed, carelessly discarding another source of tourism dollars, which was set as a priority during the Shaping Our Appalachian Region planning. Moreover, at least 15 families and one business will be displaced, which is no small consideration to those who love their homes and heritage in Eastern Kentucky.
Just think if we redirected the $754 million from the proposed four-laning of the Mountain Parkway, $500 million from the proposed Interstate 75 connector between Nicholasville and Madison County and $116 million from Ky. 32, we would have almost $1.4 billion to put toward a multitude of less controversial and more practical projects, such as repairing and replacing bridges, thus reducing the need for toll roads and an increase in taxes on gasoline.
But Kentucky will never move forward in a significant manner with adequate and affordable public transportation or an equitable use of transportation funds as long as road projects are used as political pork for rewarding friendly legislators, as campaigning points for their next elections, as payback to campaign contributors or to build political legacies.
Hundreds of local citizens have resisted "Rocky's Road" for more than six years. It's high time to begin transitioning transportation tax dollars away from new highway projects and into urban and rural public transportation and maintenance of our existing highway system. We believe — and we'd bet those 400 folks who'd save six minutes a day on the new road would agree — that there are better investments for building a brighter future. Think about what that money could do for our schools and the number of college scholarships that it could provide. Think about the job training that could be done for displaced miners and other workers.
At the recent SOAR conference, Adkins received the report containing numerous and varied suggestions for shaping Appalachia's future. Of all those ideas, are these 14 miles of road really the priority? We can build Appalachia's bright future together. But "Rocky's Road" probably isn't going to take us there.
Suzanne Tallichet of Morehead is chair of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.