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KY 32 Project Advances To Final Design Phase

Kentucky Department of Transportation

The Federal Highway Administration has approved the Transportation Cabinet’s proposal to replace a 14-mile section of the 80-year-old, sharply-curved KY 32 in Elliott and Rowan counties with a new roadway mostly north of its current route.

Engineers will now move the $100 million-plus project into final design, and begin drafting straighter, wider travel lanes capable of carrying more traffic, more safely.

The decision comes after more than six years of study and preliminary design that’s included thousands of hours of computer-aided drafting and data analysis, radar flyovers of the hilly terrain, at least four public meetings and survey periods, and frequent one-on-one discussions with landowners, local officials, emergency responders, historical and environmental groups and agencies, and other stakeholders.

The KY 32 redesign project began in 2007 with a planning study that, two years later, proposed a new or improved roadway be developed within a mile-wide corridor between Elliottville in Rowan County and KY 32’s junction with KY 7 at Newfoundland in Elliott County.

By 2012, six design alternatives ranging from spot improvements along the existing route to new roadways north or south had been developed for consideration. Public support, engineering analysis, cost and environmental factors narrowed the design choice to spot improvements, widening the road in place or a new 12-mile route mostly north of the existing route – known as Alternate 3 in public meetings.

From those possibilities, Alternate 3 became the preferred option because it best meets the project’s “purpose and need” by straightening and widening the entire route studied rather than just fixing parts of the roadway or just widening. It’s also among the easiest built and least costly of proposals, and impacts the fewest landowners.

Other key factors for Alternate 3’s selection, and ultimate approval by the Federal Highway Administration, were:

-        Safety and travel efficiency. During the planning study and subsequent public meetings, safety and better travel time was listed as top concerns. Also, some emergency responders, tourism-based companies and students have stated that they use alternate routes when possible to avoid KY 32's narrow, curvy "hazardous" path even though it's the most direct route to healthcare and the university at Morehead or destinations like the Laurel Gorge. A new route would provide a safer design that decreases travel time and increases roadway use.

-        Protection of the surrounding environment. Alternate 3’s more northern route avoids two pristine streams, and it’s the only alternate that does not require “borrowed” fill. The project is designed to take its needed dirt from cuts within the new road’s right of way rather than use fill from surrounding hillsides. The cabinet would have very little control if off-site material is used, which could potentially harm neighboring landscapes and scenic views. Also, the Transportation Cabinet has made a commitment to enhanced protection measures such as permanent storm water collection devices and bio swales to collect runoff and potential hazmat spills.

-        Scenic vistas. As KY 32 is a ridge top road, in certain locations the view from the road extends many miles to the horizon. "The preservation and enhancement of viewsheds are seen as a value to the citizens and stakeholders, and a key element in local tourism," according to project documents. The cabinet is already identifying locations for scenic overlooks and considering other enhancements.

The cabinet’s next steps in redesigning KY 32 will be to fine tune the new route’s path, plan utility and right of way acquisitions, and determine construction schedules.

Paul Hitchcock earned his Masters in Communications from Morehead State University and Bachelors in Radio-TV/Psychology from Georgetown College. A veteran broadcaster for more than 40 years and an avid fan of blues, jazz and American roots music. Hitchcock has been with WMKY since 1986 and was named General Manager in 2003. He currently hosts "Muddy Bottom Blues" (Fri., 8pm-9pm), "Nothin' But The Blues" (Sat., 8pm-12am), "Sunday Night Jazz Showcase" and "Live From The Jazz Lounge" (Sun., 8pm-9pm) and "The Golden Age of Radio" (Sun., 2pm-3pm). He also serves as producer for "A Time For Tales" and "The Reader's Notebook."
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