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By Jimmie Earls
Sun Staff Writer
A proposed parkway could make Central Kentucky more attractive to businesses and development. That’s the hope of a new area committee dedicated to seeing that what is being called The Heartland Parkway comes to pass.
The highway would stretch 63 miles from the Martha Layne Collins Bluegrass Parkway and KY-555 interchange in Washington County, passing through Marion and Taylor counties along KY-55 to the interchange of the Louis B. Nunn Parkway and KY-61 in Adair County.
The section of 555 in Washington County would become a divided highway, with two lanes on each side.
A foundation was set a few years ago consisting of Dr. John Chowning of Campbellsville University to represent Taylor County, Mayor Pat Bell of Columbia to represent Adair County, Lebanon City Administrator John Thomas to represent Marion County, and Washington County is represented by county judge/executive John A. Settles.
“Through the foundation, our desire was to keep the idea of the Heartland Parkway from dying,” said Settles. “The whole idea was started by Congressman Ron Lewis, who thought a limited access highway would really serve this area well as far as industry, tourism and quality of life were concerned.”
The committee would meet quarterly to discuss parkway business like attaining 501(c)(3) tax exempt status, establishing a Web site for the project and putting by-laws into place.
“The by-laws state who will be on the parkway board,” Settles added. “The board will consist of the judge/executives from each of the four counties, the mayor of each county seat, two at-large members from each of the four counties and the president or a representative from the three colleges along the parkway and a representative from the economic development authority from each of the four counties.”
The board members from Washington County include Settles, Springfield Mayor John Cecconi, SWEDA director Hal B. Goode, St. Catharine College President William Huston, along with Springfield city council member Paul Borders and local businessman Bob Campbell serving as the at-large members.
The entire board recently held its first meeting to discuss the parkway project.
“The meeting we had a couple weeks ago was our initial meeting for the full board that was set-up by the by-laws that was set-up by the foundation,” Settles said.
When funding for the project could not be found, Lewis was able to have some money earmarked for an initial study and was later able to have $9.5 million earmarked to do an in-depth study on the impact of the entire 63-mile corridor.
Settles added, “The study was divided into two sections. Taylor and Adair counties were to be studied first, to look at the alignment and then to do the scooping study and archaeological study. That southern portion of the study is almost done. The Washington and Marion County section will be the next part that undergoes the in-depth study. We’re going to have information in-hand that we can take to legislators and show them the potential impact to Central Kentucky and these counties.”
When businesses scout locations to move to or build, they look at all aspects of the region, from highways and infrastructure, availability of airports and railroads, the local economy, skill of available labor and morale of the population.
The parkway could also help bring more tourist dollars into the area.
“We don’t have that one-stop tourist destination,” Settles said. “We want to make it convenient for tourists to be able to travel the corridor and visit the Civil War sites, the Abraham Lincoln sites and more. We also know from the studies that it will help increase industry.”
The estimated cost of the project in early 2005 was $390 million. Settles said a 20 percent increase in the cost of construction is reasonable given the higher cost of asphalt and materials over the past three-and-a-half years.
“We know it’s not going to happen this year or next year,” added Settles. “We just don’t want the idea to die, we want to keep the process moving forward. We want to stay on the forefront of being able to locate smaller manufacturing facilities to provide jobs and improve the economy of our region.”