Widening on Ky. 461 won't involve environmental studies

FILE photo I CJ

Buck Creek is home of 77 species of fish and 30 species of mussels, three of which are extremely rare. The proposed widening of Ky. 461 from Ky. 80 to near Buck Creek bridge will not involved federal environmental studies.

Widening of Ky. 461 to four lanes to near Buck Creek as part of the proposed cloverleaf exchange project at the Ky. 80-461 interchange will not involve delaying environmental studies as did the existing bridge over Buck Creek when Ky. 461 was straighten during the 1970s.

"The project does not go to Buck Creek bridge ... it stops this side of the bridge," said Joe Gossett, branch manager for project development, Kentucky Department of Highways. He said federal environmental studies will not be required for the proposed four-laning.

Right-of-way is currently being acquired for the cloverleaf interchange and Ky. 461 expansion. A construction contract for the project will be let in late spring or early summer next year. Because of a federal BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) grant involvement, the interchange and highway widening must be under construction by September 2020.

Four-laning Ky. 461 north from the proposed interchange stops short of Buck Creek bridge for a reason; to avoid delaying environmental studies. Buck Creek is one of the most pristine streams in the world. It is home of 77 species of fish and 30 species of mussels, three of which are extremely rare.

Monte McGregor, aquatic scientist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, commenting recently to the Commonwealth Journal, said " ... one truck carrying chemicals overturns and the habitat is destroyed." McGregor says the few remaining endangered mussels -- maybe less than 100 -- in Buck Creek are the rarest creatures in the world, " ... rarer than lions and elephants in Africa." The mussel population in Buck Creek has declined since the 1970s because host fish on which mussels spend a part of their life cycle are gone, he noted. The only place in the world where these endangered mussels still live are in Buck Creek and upper Cumberland, including the Big South Fork and Rockcastle rivers.

Environmental studies involving Ky. 461 and Buck Creek may be necessary in the future. Chris Girdler, president and CEO of SPEDA (Somerset Pulaski Economic Development Authority) told the Commonwealth Journal recently one of the organization's goals is to four-line Ky. 461 all the way to I-75 at Mt. Vernon to give Somerset and Pulaski County four-lane access to North 1-75. A section of Ky. 461 from the intersection of U.S. 25 near McDonald's restaurant in Mt. Vernon south to the intersection with U.S. 150 has been let to contract for design as a four-lane and the work has going on for a while, according to Rockcastle County Judge-Executive Howell Holbrook Jr.

It took about 20 years and four or five administrations in Frankfort to get the former "crooked as a snake" Ky. 461 upgraded to the existing two lanes with passing lanes. However, Somerset and Pulaski County still do not have a four-lane highway to I-75.

Ky. 461 became a pathway for the "Ohio Navy" after Lake Cumberland was impounded. Rarely, as a weekend approached, was not accidents on Ky. 461 as cars and trucks pulling boats tried to negotiate hairpin curves on the old unimproved highway,

Girdler also wants to get Ky. 80 four-laned to I-75 at London, an access to the interstate for southbound motorists. Ky. 80 from Somerset to London was recently designated Hal Rogers Parkway. The section of Ky. 80 from Somerset to Rockcastle River bridges is included in the Transportation Cabinet's plans to upgrade to interstate standards.

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