GLASGOW – Potential progress is occurring in the 2020 General Assembly on a project that has been afoot in earnest – again – for about a year to get Louie B. Nunn Cumberland Parkway redesignated as an interstate spur or at least, for the interim, as an expressway.
Perceptions, as they relate to economic development, are a primary driver of the reasoning behind doing this.
Maureen Carpenter, executive director for the Barren County Economic Authority, said that in some people’s minds, a parkway could mean a four-lane road, but one that has turn lanes and traffic lights and such. They may typically have a 55 miles-per-hour limit, but you have to slow down periodically for a red light.
An expressway isn’t necessarily up to interstate standards, but it has more controlled access and exits, and the speed limits are higher and more consistent, she said. Interstate highways, which are part of the federal transportation system, have certain other criteria or standards that have to be met, e.g. shoulder width, distances between ramps, guardrail specifications, and they are consistent across the nation.
“One of the questions we’re asked, most of the time, on a request for information for a project is, ‘Are you located on an interstate? Where is the closest interstate?’” Carpenter told the Glasgow Daily Times via phone Thursday, so having that designation can make a significant difference in recruiting companies to bring their business here. “Right now our answer is, if it’s Glasgow, you’re 10 minutes to Interstate 65 via the Cumberland Parkway, but they want that direct interstate access.”
The concept was discussed at last week’s BCEA meeting, where that group voted to formally support it.
The two concrete steps happening now, a culmination of meetings, letter-writing campaigns and other lobbying efforts that got renewed last spring with some interest from federal legislators, are:
• State Reps. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow, Bart Rowland, R-Tompkinsville, and three others sponsored a bill that would, right away, rename the parkway as the Louie B. Nunn Cumberland Expressway. That measure has cleared the Kentucky House of Representatives last week and was received by the Kentucky Senate, headed to its Transportation Committee.
• $500,000 toward the effort for the interstate-spur designation was included in the version of the state transportation budget that made it through House approval Wednesday, according to a press release from Riley’s office.
The state legislature adjourned beginning Friday for a week as an effort to reduce the spread of a novel form of coronavirus that has created a pandemic, with nearly 50 cases known in commonwealth, including two in Warren County, as of Thursday afternoon. Budget conference committees were to continue working in the meantime.
In a press release earlier this week, Carpenter touted the way various entities have worked together to bring these possibilities to fruition. Those involved locally, besides BCEA, include the Glasgow-Barren County Chamber of Commerce and Farmers Rural Electric Cooperative Corp., she said. In a phone interview with the Daily Times on Thursday, Ernie Myers, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the chamber, said other communities along the parkway, like Columbia and Somerset, and all three U.S. representatives for the areas the route traverses, have expressed recent support as well. Discussions about boosting that parkway’s profile, in some form or another, have been going off and on for probably a couple of decades, Myers said. He’s made it one of his “pet projects” in the past several months, he told the BCEA.
Referring to the spur initiative, Carpenter’s press release stated that the first step would be to acquire the necessary funds to conduct a study that would identify the operational and safety upgrades needed to comply with the minimum standards for entry into the federal highway system. That study would cost an estimated $500,000 and could take nine months to a year to complete.
“So that’s what that study would tell us is where those standards are that we’re not meeting now,” Carpenter continued on Thursday. “So then you would say [for example], ‘OK, well, we need to improve these six exits, we need to add guardrail here, we need to widen this section, so there’s a pull off.’ Things like that.”
That’s the intended purpose for the $500,000 Riley’s press release mentioned, he confirmed in a text message.
“As the economic development organization for Barren County, it is our mission to provide economic development resources in Barren County that attract new business and industry, retain and support existing business expansion and support infrastructure development that meets the needs of business and industry and advance the overall well-being of the community,” Carpenter stated via the press release. “A key to meeting that mission is to have interstate accessibility. This is an issue that has been discussed here in Barren County for a number of years, and we are excited about the potential growth that could come to our area by connecting interstate miles running north, south, east and west.”
Meanwhile, the work to put the “expressway” tag on it is helpful as well.
Riley said via the BCEA press release, “I am glad to be able to be part of this process and to help the economic development in the Commonwealth with an I-65 spur. I believe the House is supportive but timing is uncertain with the impact of the [coronavirus] impacting the legislative session.”