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Mountain Parkway Expansion to Close a Transportation Gap in Eastern Kentucky

by: Larry Bernstein
The Magoffin County West segment of the Mountain Parkway Expansion project requires the removal of 5.85 million cubic yards of earth material in Eastern Kentucky.
The Magoffin County West segment of the Mountain Parkway Expansion project requires the removal of 5.85 million cubic yards of earth material in Eastern Kentucky.
Infrastructure projects can have many benefits, from improved safety to enhanced economic opportunities and beyond. The multi-year, multi-segment Mountain Parkway Expansion in Kentucky is an infrastructure project with a few significant aims.

Originally opened to traffic in 1963, the Mountain Parkway is a 78-mile route that links Eastern Kentucky or Appalachia with the rest of the Commonwealth. Just over half, or 46 miles, of the Mountain Parkway was constructed as a four-lane highway, while the remainder is two or three lanes.

“This project is in response to a decades-long promise to complete a four-lane, high-speed corridor that links Appalachia with the rest of the state,” says Aric Skaggs, Project Manager of the Mountain Parkway Expansion for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC). Skaggs’ focus is on preconstruction and development. When this project is fully complete, there will be a four-lane, high-speed route across the length of the state – from Paducah to Pikeville.

KYTC and Kentucky leaders believe that the Mountain Parkway Expansion will close a transportation gap, giving commuters a safe and modern parkway that improves connections between Eastern Kentucky and the rest of the state and supports economic development in the area.

Constructing the Fourth Segment
The project, which began in 2015, consists of six segments. When they complete the final segment, KYTC will have widened the Mountain Parkway to four lanes across 30 miles. In addition, 16 miles of four-lane highway are being added to the parkway.

Currently, the team is working on the fourth segment known as Magoffin County West. This segment covers 4.6 miles of highway. For this segment, the team is moving the existing alignment approximately half a mile south. The mountainous terrain makes this challenging.

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“We’re implementing a cross-country alignment because it allows us to eliminate a hazardous curve,” Skaggs says. Under the previous alignment, there was not enough space to eliminate the curve. The new alignment is more economical than working around the previous alignment.

Other project elements include installing twin 380-foot-long bridges and multiple box culverts. One of the culverts is more than 1,200 feet long. Another is a double box culvert, which measures 16 feet by 8 feet by 540 feet. The team is also building a new interchange.

The terrain is one of the main project challenges. The project requires the removal of 5.85 million cubic yards of earth. “It’s a fairly large amount of earthworks to be moved, but not unique for Eastern Kentucky,” Skaggs says. “On every job, we need to find a place that is suitable to put the earthworks.” The Army Corps of Engineers assists with finding a suitable location for dumping the material and is responsible for issuing the appropriate permits.

A second challenge that the team is dealing with is the weather. Flash flooding and heavy rains are typical in the area.

Close Partnership Saves Schedule
Hi-View Construction, of Corbin, Kentucky, is the prime contractor for this segment. They, along with another contractor, served as a prime for another segment of the project as well. Hi-View won the contract based on being the low bidder.

Skaggs notes Hi-View has worked well with KYTC in the past and is confident in them. “They are good at moving earthworks and are responsive to the cabinet.”

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The Magoffin County West segment began in the fall of 2019 and is expected to open to traffic in the second half of 2023. The budget for this segment is $75 million. It’s being financed via an 80/20 split between the federal and state government.

The project is on budget and schedule. Reaching these hallmarks is happening despite supply chain issues. Credit for this goes to the contractor and KYTC. “We work closely with the contractor and address major issues as quickly as we can to avoid major hiccups and deterrents,” Skaggs says. The team has monthly meetings where they touch base on issues and try to identify potential challenges before they arise.

The overall Mountain Parkway Project had an initial estimate of $754 million, and the team has stayed close to it so far. Various avenues for funding have been identified to ease the financial challenges of the project. The project has received a $24 million TIGER grant and a $55 million INFRA grant from the federal government.

The final completion date for the entire corridor is yet to be determined. “Scheduling and funding are a constant ongoing process, though we hope to have our next round of funding resolved as expeditiously as possible so the project can move forward,” Skaggs says.

As funding becomes available the team will move forward on the last, longest, and most challenging segment, Kentucky 114. During this segment, KYTC will add 14 miles to the length of the Mountain Parkway. Skaggs is optimistic this segment will move forward on a timely basis, “Governor Beshear has expressed commitment to seeing this segment happen.”

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When the Mountain Parkway expansion project is complete, it will improve the safety and quality of life for people in Eastern Kentucky. There will be a modern four-lane highway connected to interchanges and other four-lane roadways thus allowing for high-speed mobility throughout the state.

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