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Mayor Girdler supports four-lane Ky. 461 from Somerset to I-75  

By BILL MARDIS Commonwealth Journal Oct 14, 2017    

     Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler has put suggestive power of his office behind four-laning Ky. 461 and labeled completion of the northern bypass and widening of Ky. 80 as cosmetic rather than practical.

     “Widening Ky. 80 to Rockcastle River Bridge and completing the northern bypass will not help Somerset,” Girdler declared this week. “Industry leaders want access to an interstate ... I believe we could have doubled our industrial jobs during the last 30 years if Ky. 461 had been four lanes,” Girdler added. Ky. 80 from Somerset to London, recently designated Hal Rogers Parkway, is in the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s six-year plan to be widened to interstate standards from Somerset to Rockcastle River Bridge. Some utilities have been relocated on a selected northern bypass corridor from U.S. 27 to Ky. 80 at Barnesburg but no construction money has been allocated.    

     The Somerset mayor in 2009 expressed concern traffic would be diverted from Somerset’s main business district along six-lane U.S. 27 when the eastern end of Cumberland Parkway was realigned into the northern bypass and a section of the parkway leading to Somerset was closed. “U.S. 27 is the lifeblood of Somerset,” Girdler said, directing at the time that the city would not extend utilities to businesses at bypass interchanges.

     Excellent signage pointing to Somerset and a still incomplete northern bypass apparently have delayed some of the impact of traffic diversion but the mayor’s current top priority for highway construction is expanding Ky. 461 to four lanes from Ky. 80 to Mt. Vernon and I-75.

     Four-laning Ky. 461 seemingly has been put on a back burner since Ky. 80 from Somerset to London has been named Hal Rogers Parkway. Shortly after Rogers’ name was put on big green signs along Ky. 80, the Kentucky General Assembly added to its six-year highway plan a proposed project to widen Ky. 80 to interstate standards from Somerset to Rockcastle River Bridge. “Widening Ky. 80 doesn’t help Somerset,” Girdler declared. “That project is more cosmetic than practical. No tourist heading down I-75 to Gatlinburg is going to turn onto Ky. 80 and come to Somerset,” the mayor reasoned.

     On the other hand, I-75 at Mt. Vernon is being widened to six lanes and bids will be opened later this month to add additional lanes at the I-75 interchange at Mt. Vernon, according to Bill Chaney, branch manager for Project Delivery and Preservation, Kentucky Department of Highways’ District 8. The rock cut at the interchange also will be widened to prevent rock falls, Chaney said.    

     Ky. 461, even before the narrow, winding road was straightened, has always been the route for the Ohio Navy on its way to Lake Cumberland. It took more than a quarter of a century to straighten Ky. 461 and four-laning the road seems to be moving at a similar pace. “There’s been some talk but I’m not aware of any plans (to widen Ky. 461),” Chaney said.

     Girdler insists Somerset needs four-lane access to a north-south interstate. Other than east-west Cumberland Parkway which joins I-65 north of Bowling Green, Somerset does not have a four-lane connector to an interstate. Most traffic in practically all sections of the country is north-south, not east-west.

     Somerset’s northern bypass has not been completed, partly the reason for not having the devastating effect on U.S. 27 through Somerset’s business district earlier feared by Girdler. The incomplete section of the northern bypass is an already selected corridor from the end of the bypass at U.S. 27 about two miles north of Somerset to Ky. 80 at Barnesburg.

     “That money (for Ky. 80 and northern bypass) could better be used to four-lane Ky. 461,” suggested Girdler. “Completing the northern bypass from U.S. 27 to Barnesburg or improving Ky. 80 to Rockcastle River Bridge would do nothing for Somerset,” the mayor repeated. “Truckers would rather have quick access to the interstate than a leisurely drive to Rockcastle River Bridge,” he added. The mayor said he is aware money, state and federal, is short in supply.