While environmentalists applaud the downturn in the coal industry, many feel the negative impact. In fact, the decline in the coal industry has proved detrimental to many areas, including the Appalachia area of Kentucky in the eastern part of the state. In 2014, state leaders felt the entire state of Kentucky was at a crossroads due to coal's decline. They also saw the potential for growth of other industries that require safe, interstate-quality roads. As a result, the state committed to expanding and improving the Mountain Parkway.
The Mountain Parkway state highway was built in the 1960’s. Once the Mountain Parkway Expansion is finished, it will complete a 400-mile, four-lane, high-speed corridor from Paducah in the eastern part of the state to Pikeville, which is in Eastern Kentucky.With the Mountain Parkway Expansion project, 30 miles of existing parkway that runs from Campton to Salyersville will be widened from two to four lanes. In addition, the highway will be expanded by about 16 miles to connect Salyersville to Prestonsburg.
Upon completion, the Mountain Parkway Expansion project will improve safety with wider roads and modern interchanges and create greater connectivity between Eastern Kentucky and rest of the state. This will expand opportunity for economic development and job creation to those most impacted by coal's downturn.
Preparing for the Project
When the Mountain Parkway Expansion project was conceived in 2014, the cost estimated to complete it was $753 million. It was not, however, funded up front. Therefore, it must go through the general assembly every two years to secure funding in order to continue the project. Since the project began three and a half years ago, a new governor, Matt Bevin, took over in Kentucky.
Marshall Carrier is a Project Manager for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC). In his role for the Mountain Parkway Expansion, Carrier is responsible for delivery of the project, maintaining the financial status, and monitoring construction activities.
"The new administration has a positive outlook regarding the project and recognizes its importance," says Carrier. "However, they are trying to balance the budget, and there are many other priorities going on in the state."
Because of the way the Mountain Parkway Expansion project was financed, communications regarding its progress are particularly important. "We make sure stakeholders are informed as best we can," says Carrier.
Communication is also extended to the community whose level of support has been unique. Support is needed with projects such as these because, by their nature, road construction projects can cause disruption and inconvenience.
“The people who live and work along this route have been incredibly supportive and understanding, because they know how important the project is to Eastern Kentucky,” says Carrier.
Great consideration is also given to cost, and savings are being sought. Carrier is laser focused on being a good steward of the taxpayer’s money. He and his team have made significant efforts to reduce costs. During the design phase, the team constantly re-evaluated geometry, which led to reduced construction costs.
On one portion of the Mountain Parkway, a value engineering analysis resulted in construction cost savings of approximately $33 million. Through innovative letting techniques that included accelerating design and combining three contiguous portions of the Parkway Project, KYTC saved an additional $11 million in construction cost. These are only a few examples of cost savings to date that total more than $100 million.
"This significant accomplishment is due to the efforts and teamwork of leadership within KYTC, leadership across the state, and partnerships with FHWA and USDOT," says Carrier.
Regarding progress, Carrier estimates that about a third of the project is underway or complete. Initial construction began near Salyersville in early 2015. Nearly 6 miles of existing parkway have been widened, 10.5 miles are currently under construction, and 4.5 miles are ready for future construction.
Revamping Restaurant Row
By mid-2019, Carrier expects the “Restaurant Row” portion of the project to be complete. Expeditious efforts to meet timely deadlines and submit for the TIGER VI Grant also resulted in construction cost savings of $24 million to the taxpayers of Kentucky (part of the $100 million dollars noted above).
For this part of the project, the parkway will be extended, access roads will be added to support a commercial and retail corridor, and the road will be widened to four lanes. It's a particularly important part of the project as the area is more urban, more populated, and heavily traveled.
Due to the significant amount of traffic in the area, directional boring has been implemented on much of the underground utility work along the Salyersville portion of the Mountain Parkway Expansion Project. This method allows the utility companies to lessen above ground disturbance while also minimizing traffic and property impacts in the area. It also allows for business access during crucial operating hours for most businesses.
The progress made to date has been significant, but the pace reflects that much of the work being done is in a very mountainous area requiring significant earthworks projects. These areas are cut off from the state and one goal of the project is to provide connectivity to more metropolitan areas of northern and central Kentucky.
Carrier notes there have been other challenges. "Our biggest challenge has been mother nature," says Carrier. "However, our teams have continued to move forward during rainy and cold months as weather allows."
He also notes that the massive project has required a significant amount of coordination and communication. The project was broken down into four construction sequences for the purposes of contracting. Within those sequences, there are different project areas with different construction contracts. Carrier says, "Although they all have separate projects and plans and timelines, everyone needs to work as one team."
The completed portions of the Mountain Parkway are already paying dividends in multiple ways. The first benefit is safety. "It's allowing safer maneuvering around slower and heavy truck traffic with the introduction of additional east and west bound lanes," says Carrier. "Also, drivers are benefitting from safer traffic operations at recently updated interchanges."
The second benefit pertains to economics. While these benefits have yet to be fully realized, Carrier is optimistic. "There has been a great deal of interest by local stakeholders, and the future looks bright." He adds there has been outside interest as well.
In a changing economy, the people of Kentucky are seeking opportunity. With the expansion of the Mountain Parkway, a path to economic diversity and growth is opening up.
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