Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Versailles bypass not in new road plan; both mayors speculate that politics were in play

By Al Cross and Aayat Ali
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Gov. Matt Bevin's proposed road plan does not include the controversial Versailles bypass, pleasing interests in Midway that feared it would bring much more truck traffic to the town and Midway Road.

Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said he didn't know why Bevin dropped the $40 million project, but speculated that it stems from its cost and Bevin's Republican politics, "the sort of tea-party aspect of it. He's sort of trying to cut anywhere he can cut."

Bevin has called for a 9 percent cut in most General Fund agencies. The Road Fund is separately funded, but its main source of revenue, motor-fuels taxes, has been declining along with gas prices, and the road plan has more projects than can be built in its six-year span, Vandegrift noted.

Also, he said, "They probably were aware it was a controversial project." Bill Marshall, a leading Republican in Midway who knows Bevin, said he had not spoken to the governor about the project. County Republican Chair Bobby Gaffney, who ran for county-executive judge in 2014, could not be reached for comment.

Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott, who works for Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo and is a major promoter of the bypass, said he didn't know, either, but also said the move seemed political, aimed at a county that is represented in the General Assembly by Democrats.

"I can't imagine that the governor has any real public-policy opinion on that road one way or the other," Traugott said. "He obviously doesn't know the local politics. It's not a real party-line issue."

Asked if he thought his legislative job influenced the decision, he said, "I can't imagine that that would help, but I would expect more out of a governor. The speaker and I have never discussed the road. I believe it was purely political, but I don't think it was geared toward me or the speaker or my role there. He probably thinks we've elected the wrong people to represent us."

Transportation Cabinet map (click on it to view a larger version)
State Rep. James Kay, a Democrat from Versailles, told The Woodford Sun, "My priorities . . . never included the bypass. I obviously understand the traffic concerns, I understand the future when you look at it, but there was never an effort on my part to get funds for the bypass, particularly considering everyone knew they wouldn't be there."

The road, officially known as the Northwest Versailles Mobility Corridor, is designed to relieve traffic congestion in downtown Versailles. It would extend Falling Springs Boulevard, which begins at KY 33 near the Bluegrass Parkway, to Frankfort Road (US 60).

Vandegrift said Bevin's move doesn't necessarily kill the project, and Traugott said he considers it a delay, not a cancellation. He said he will try to get the legislature to add planning money for the project in the latter part of the plan "to keep the discussion alive." The plan had included $2 million for final design of the road.

The Transportation Cabinet has identified three possible routes, one of which would feed directly into Midway Road (US 62), which trucks could use to reach Interstate 64 eastbound and Interstate 75. The other possible routes would intersect Frankfort Road short distances either way from its intersection with Midway Road.

Robert Sprague, the Transportation Cabinet engineer supervising the project, was not able to provide a reason why the bypass was left out of the road plan. He did tell the Midway Messenger that the cabinet still plans to recommend a route for the bypass some time this month, as previously scheduled.

Told that, Traugott said, "I'm glad to see that they're moving forward with that due-diligence part of it."

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