Jan. 22, 2014 — Can you imagine the impact of three quarters of a billion dollars?
That’s the amount Gov. Steve Beshear and a host of mountain politicians used when they announced plans to widen the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway to four lanes between Campton and Prestonsburg.
However, spending $753 million for what House Speaker Greg Stumbo calls the “most promised highway in history" has a clinker in the financing plan.
The first $595 million would be paid from state and federal highway funds but the other $158 million would be paid by travelers in the form of tolls on the entire road from Winchester east.
This means those who live in the mountains would be paying for the road a second time.
It was a toll road from 1963 until the original construction bonds were paid off in 1985.
We’re not necessarily opposed to the project but, at this point in the history of East Kentucky, is that the best use of that much money?
One critic said the only impact of the wider highway would be to cut 10 minutes off the driving time from Prestonsburg to Lexington.
We wonder if that huge sum of money wouldn’t be better spent on job retraining for unemployed coal miners or low interest lows for startup businesses or expanded broadband services or for providing clean drinking water and sewage treatment for the entire region.
Those who believe a four-lane highway will automatically bring economic prosperity should look at Wolfe County with its 41 percent poverty rate and an adult population where only 35 percent are available for employment.
Frankly, we doubt that a new road will mean much to the unemployed who worry about how to feed and shelter their families.