The public outcry has been heard, and now there will be no overhead utility lines along Lexington's 1.5-mile Newtown Pike Extension.
Gov. Steve Beshear and Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry announced plans Tuesday to bury utility lines along the planned stretch of roadway.
The bulk of the money will come from the state Transportation Cabinet's contingency fund. The cost of burying the lines has not been determined. Government officials said they planned to meet with Kentucky Utilities representatives later this week.
"Hundreds of thousands is a good way to couch it for right now," state highway engineer Mike Hancock said of the cost.
Beshear noted that burying utility lines was not part of the original plan for the extension project, first conceptualized in the 1930s.
He said the move from overhead to underground lines was one more example of how an obstacle can be overcome by people working together.
A few weeks ago, local business people and city officials were upset to learn utility lines on wooden poles would line the extension, envisioned as a beautiful gateway to the city. Critics said overhead lines would mar the look of the extension.
The Newtown Pike Extension, estimated by state officials to cost about $90 million, will extend from West Main Street at Newtown Pike to South Limestone Street at Scott Street. Most of the work is expected to be completed in time for the 2010 World Equestrian Games.
The extension will carry up to 24,000 cars a day and reduce traffic in downtown Lexington by up to 40 percent, the governor said.
Lexington architects Graham and Clive Pohl, who own property in the affected area, were among those who voiced concern earlier this month after learning about the plans for overhead utility lines and for a 14-foot elevation of the roadbed at Newtown and Manchester Street. Graham Pohl said an elegant design for the extension promised by the city had been sacrificed to high-speed auto traffic.
Beshear said Newberry called him about the possibility of burying the utility lines along the extension.
"It wasn't exactly the hardest sell I've had to make," the mayor said.
"Today we have a solution," the governor said. For a gateway project, "this makes all the sense in the world."
"The real tribute is to the citizens who insisted that this project be done right," Lexington Vice Mayor Jim Gray said. "Unlike CentrePointe," he said, referring to the plan for a 35-story luxury hotel, condominium and retail business complex in the middle of downtown that has drawn a lot of criticism, "the leadership of our city listened this time."
Mike Noyes, a member of U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler's staff, read a statement from the congressman, who has been heavily involved in bringing the extension to fruition. He said burying utility lines along the extension is crucial to the project, the people who live around the extension and downtown Lexington as a whole.
"This is not just a road project," Urban County Councilman Tom Blues said.