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Highway from Ky. to W.Va. took 40 years

BELFRY — A new highway connecting a portion of Appalachia in Kentucky to West Virginia, more than four decades in the making, is officially open.

U.S. 119 is expected to open numerous economic-development opportunities for Pike County and eastern Kentucky.

The four-lane highway from the West Virginia state line to the Letcher County line was completed after numerous delays. The last section opened last January, and motorists were allowed to begin driving on the new section in March.

Part of the Appalachian Regional Commission's Appalachian Project Development corridor system, the road cost more than $450 million to design and build.

Gov. Steve Beshear and former Gov. Paul Patton attended a dedication of the new four-lane stretch earlier this month.

"The Pike County of today is not the Pike County of 40 years ago," Patton said. "Families were isolated, but they weren't trying to get out; they wanted visitors to find them. Like everyone else, they wanted health care, jobs, educators, specialists and factories here."

Patton said the first public meeting on the project was held in 1966 at the old Belfry High School.

This month's celebration event was held in the auditorium at the new Belfry High School. The school was built on excess land created by construction of the highway.

Pike County Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford said the highway would enhance the quality of life and promote economic growth.

"Roads will help solve the fuel and transportation problems of America," Rutherford said in remarks reported by the Appalachian News-Express in Pikeville. "This roadway will improve Appalachia for future generations."

Rick Peltz, an official with the Appalachian Regional Commission, read a statement from Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., who fought for the highway completion. Byrd noted that the highway was important for the economic development of Kentucky and West Virginia.

"Corridor G is done," Byrd wrote. "It is among five of 31 corridors that need to be completed."

The highway was dedicated as the Judi and Paul Patton Highway. Judi Patton is the former first lady.