Woodford County

Controversial Versailles bypass not included in Gov. Bevin’s recommended road plan

Afternoon traffic filled the streets of downtown Versailles. Some in Versailles say a proposed bypass around the  western edge of Versailles would alleviate this congestion, but Midway residents worry that it could lead to more traffic there.
Afternoon traffic filled the streets of downtown Versailles. Some in Versailles say a proposed bypass around the western edge of Versailles would alleviate this congestion, but Midway residents worry that it could lead to more traffic there. Lexington Herald-Leader

A proposed bypass around the west side of Versailles is not included in the recommended highway plan that Gov. Matt Bevin submitted last week.

But opponents of the much-debated road aren’t claiming victory and proponents aren’t accepting defeat. Both sides say they will wait to see what lawmakers do in the current and future sessions of the legislature.

“I’m excited but I know very well this is not the end of this thing,” said Joyce Evans, co-chair of the Corridor Study Group, an alliance of different organizations that oppose the bypass project.

Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott, a bypass supporter, said he has not heard an explanation of why the road wasn’t included in the new Republican governor’s plan.

“Considering his style, I imagine it’s cut first and ask questions later,” he said.

Traugott, a legislative aide to Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat, said it will be “an uphill battle” to get the project back into the state’s six-year highway plan.

“I’ll remain optimistic until April 15 when that final gavel comes down,” Traugott said, referring to the close of the legislative session.

The proposed road, formally called the Northwest Versailles Mobility Corridor, would extend Falling Springs Boulevard around the west side of Versailles to U.S. 60, near the Midway Road (U.S. 62) intersection north of town.

I don’t want to spike the football so to speak, but a lot of my constituents and myself had real concerns over the road.

Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift

Some Midway residents objected to the road because they said it would funnel big trucks onto 62 and through their town. Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said a lot of residents there “are relieved” that the project is out but he said he isn’t ready to celebrate.

“I don’t want to spike the football so to speak, but a lot of my constituents and myself had real concerns over the road,” Vandegrift said. “We just felt like there were maybe cheaper solutions that could have been tried first before you go into building a $40 million road that could have serious consequences for the city of Midway.”

The last proposed six-year highway plan included $2 million for design of the road; $5 million for purchase of rights-of-way; $2 million for utilities relocation; and $30 million for construction.

No federal money would have been used in the bypass project. It would have only used state money.

The 2016-2022 highway plan submitted last week, if enacted, includes $6 billion in state and federal funds for transportation needs across the state. This budget cycle, however, lawmakers will have nearly $1 billion less to work with over the next six years. Due in part to declining gas prices, a reduction in Road Fund receipts means less money will be available to lawmakers to spend on projects.

In any case, Vandegrift said the Versailles bypass project has not “gone away completely,” and that it will probably come up again in future legislative sessions, if not this one.

Opponents now have time to explore and pursue less costly solutions to minimize downtown Versailles traffic and to seek changes in the traffic section of Woodford County’s comprehensive plan, which is to be updated, Evans said.

Versailles Realtor Harold Steele, an outspoken supporter of the road, said “it’s very unfortunate” that it was not included.

Steele said many people who opposed the bypass were also against Wal-Mart’s 2014 exploration of Versailles as the site for a superstore. At that time, Steele said, Wal-Mart opponents said the city “had a traffic problem” and a superstore would only make congestion worse.

But in debate about the bypass “they said we didn’t have a traffic problem,” Steele said. He said Versailles needs the road if the community is to attract more jobs.

“Bevin himself said he wants Kentucky to be a place where products are made,” Steele said. “Versailles has a workforce and a population that has been disenfranchised because we have not been able to lure business and industry here. And one of the primary reasons we haven’t been able to is because of the lack of a bypass and a historical lack of land zoned for business.”

Another debated Central Kentucky project — the proposed four-lane connector road between Interstate 75 in Madison County and U.S. 27 in Jessamine County — is included in the governor’s plan. The road is touted as a direct connection for fast-growing Nicholasville to I-75, but opponents have cited its proximity to the Kentucky River Palisades, a beautiful and environmentally sensitive area. Jessamine County residents now generally have to drive through or around Lexington for interstate access.

Bevin’s plan shows $10 million for purchase of rights of way and $3 million for utilities relocation. Those are the same amounts included in the previous six-year plan.

And a total of $75.5 million is included for construction of three sections of the new East Nicholasville Bypass.

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