When the Herald-Leader editorial board opines on local events, it is usually spot on. However, when it questioned the validity of the Versailles Northwest Mobility Corridor (bypass), it revealed its ability to be totally wrongheaded. Its assessment must be based only on the unproven “what ifs” they have gained from the “no build” proponents, and maybe what little they have heard in public meetings about the bypass.
To better understand the issue, one needs to be aware that the “no build” effort is led and financed by the well-heeled and the landed gentry. Following them are others who feel somehow they’re saving the farmland or contributing in enviro-friendly ways.
All of them will argue that modernizing threatens Woodford’s quality of life. Most importantly, they are in the minority on the bypass issue, as well as other community issues.
The fact is, Woodford County needed the bypass years ago. On a daily basis there are too many tractor rigs and box trucks to count. They funnel through downtown Versailles on Main Street and Lexington Street because of lack of a bypass.
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Watching a tractor rig turning from Lexington Street onto South Main and one from South Main onto Lexington Street in the same direction at the same time is a sight for Believe It Or Not. Jacking, turning, cars backing up, running over sidewalks, scraping light poles is a sight to behold.
Other gauntlet areas are at Rose Hill and High Street and the Martin Luther King Boulevard, the unofficial bypass that snakes through Beech Street, Kentucky Avenue, Elm Street, and Camden Avenue to get to U.S. 60. This unofficial bypass has trains of school buses in addition to automobile traffic, twice daily, on streets barely wide enough for automobiles.
Also, Versailles has a poverty rate of 18.8 percent. That’s down from 20.5 percent in 2014 and 25.3 percent in 2010. There are over 200 Section 8 housing subsidies, and that doesn’t include two Franklin communities, one at Ryne Court and the other in the old Margaret Hall Building, and it also doesn’t include the federal housing authority.
The average yearly salary in Versailles is almost $500 below the state average. The number of families using the food pantry went from 2,624 in 2011 to 3,922 in 2014. According to food pantry sources, most of them are working families.
How does this coincide with the bypass?
By being classified as a major arterial, the bypass would help attract major employers. Before any major company will invest in a community, they will visit to assess its transportation capabilities and traffic flow to ascertain whether goods coming to and leaving a community have viable road systems.
Without the bypass, Versailles won’t make the grade. In addition, in the past two decades Versailles lost two major employers: Texas Instruments and Kuhlman Corporation. Two remaining manufacturing employers have changed ownership in the same decades. Many of the jobs at the remaining manufacturers use temp services for many employees with no future or benefits. Versailles needs to attract quality manufacturing and distribution jobs and this bypass will help.
Most importantly, there has been a traffic study done in reference to the bypass. Wilbur Smith Associates Consulting Engineers and Planners presented to the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning Commission the results in May, 1999. Listed as a phase-one project to be completed by 2000 - 2007 was the construction of a four-lane Northwest Connector Route between US 62 and US 60. It’s available online and at the planning commission.
In addition, a 2010 survey commissioned by the Planning Commission and the Economic Development Authority and done by Smith Market Research revealed that 73 percent of over 400 county-wide respondents wanted the bypass built. Also 60 percent believed downtown traffic was a problem.
One final note; Joel Pett was correct in his cartoon about the money and politics associated with the bypass. His only problem was that he targeted those elements against the wrong group.
Harold Steele Jr. is a Versailles Realtor/broker.
At Issue: Nov. 28 editorial, “Making law, sausage and the road plan.”