• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Supporters, opponents agree: bypass is likely dead, at least for now

Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott said he prefers to think of Gov. Matt Bevin’s decision to not put money for the proposed Northwest Versailles Mobility Corridor in his budget as a delay, not a cancellation. “This is, as you know, the first step in a long process of finalizing the road plan, and until the session adjourns in mid-April, I’m going to remain optimistic. It would be my hope that the project be kept in, if anything, as a placeholder to continue the discussion. I think we’ve had some good community debate, and I think keeping it alive doesn’t mean it has to be built. The governor and Transportation Cabinet have that discretion; to spend the money or not,” Traugott said two days after Bevin’s first budget address. His Midway counterpart, Grayson Vandegrift, is an opponent of the bypass. Both he and Traugott are members of the Citizens’ Advisory Council (CAC), many of whom are vocal opponents of the bypass, appointed by the state Transportation Cabinet officials overseeing the project. Half-a-dozen public and committee meetings have been held on the bypass since October 2014. Vandegrift said he was pleased by Bevin’s decision. “I’m certainly not going to gloat about it, because I know it meant a lot to some people, particularly in Versailles and elsewhere as well. It just presented a lot of concerns to the citizens of Midway and citizens all over the county, so I think (Bevin’s decision) will alleviate those fears,” Vandegrift said. Traugott and others say the bypass, which would connect Falling Springs Boulevard to Frankfort Road, would help relieve traffic in downtown Versailles and on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Camden Avenue. Vandegrift and others from Midway say the bypass would bring much of that extra traffic, particularly trucks, to the two-lane Midway Road (U.S. 62). Other opponents say the bypass would take away farm land. “Given Kentucky’s budget troubles, we’re cautiously optimistic that it won’t be put back in the (six-year road plan), but it is one session, and I suppose there is a chance it could be put back in …” said Laura Dake of Citizens for Sustainable Community Growth. (The organization also opposed a move by Walmart to the Troy Pike/Falling Springs Boulevard area.) Dake is a member of the organization’s leadership group, which meets with “some regularity” and has a distribution list of about 110 people. “In our opinion, the bypass will just open the way for more development on that side of the county, and we oppose, just, sprawl. We just believe the bypass is not a priority need for the community at this time, and the state road plan budget reflects that,” Dake said. Dake and the mayors agree on one thing: That Bevin’s budget doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the project, for which design money has already been appropriated. “I would assume so. This thing’s come up before, and been set aside before, so my guess is that it will come back up again in the future,” Vandegrift said. “I think it’s kind of a no-brainer in a state where you have a serious pension crisis, you just can’t spend $39 million on a road that hasn’t necessarily been proven to be needed, and then also, there’s a lot of serious concerns about.” Traugott has a unique perspective on the situation: He’s also a part-time aide to Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo. “I’ve done a good job of keeping those roles separate, and normally there’s no conflict. This is an instance – as a local elected official – I’m obligated to let my senator and representative know the needs of the community, and what myself and perhaps the city council supports. However, Speaker Stumbo and I have never discussed the road, nor do I anticipate we ever will, and I certainly will not talk about it while I’m up there, getting paid by the state. But I will continue to make sure (state) Representative Kay and (state) Senator Carroll know my strong, strong feelings about it – assuming they haven’t read the paper in the last six months,” Traugott said with a laugh. Carroll and Kay told The Sun they doubt money will be available for the bypass this session. “We’ve got counties now that are being cut substantially because of the shortage of road funds coming in, and they’re crying for money for bridges that badly need repair,” Carroll said. “Even were the House to put the money back in the budget, which is entirely possible, I guess, if they want to do that, I really seriously doubt whether or not they can find the funds at this time …” Carroll said the most serious problem for bypass proponents would likely be getting the proposal through a Republican-led Senate. Kay said he believed the governor’s road plan reflects the reality of the state road fund, which is dependent on falling state gas tax revenues, and that there are other Woodford County roads (Troy Pike and Pinckard Pike) that need work. “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 try to get the funds for the bypass, particularly considering everyone knew they wouldn’t be there,” Kay said. Traugott said it was possible a budget deal could emerge with the bypass pushed back into the latter part of the six-year road plan. “That’s something they do. Obviously, the executive budget and judicial and legislative and Transportation Cabinet, are all two-year, biennial budgets. The road plan’s unique in that it also has four out years, and those out years are generally adopted in a separate bill from the two-year road plan, so the money is not appropriated, it’s just a planning document. So I would be content with that compromise – putting it in the out years,” Traugott said. Such a move would keep discussion of the bypass going and allow it to be revisited in two years, Traugott said. “… But I really cannot reiterate what a disservice I thought it (Bevin’s decision) was to the community, how disappointed I am,” Traugott said. Kay said he’d work hard to inform Bevin and his administration about Woodford County’s road needs, adding, “Hopefully, the governor will not punish Woodford County for not being in his party, and will take a real strong serious look at our needs and not just play politics with things like the bypass.”

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