Calloway County is getting a $23 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to expand U.S. Route 641 to the Tennessee state line. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the grant in a release on Thursday.
The Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development - or BUILD - grant will go toward the construction of a 5.7 mile, rural, four-lane divided highway. The existing 641 will continue to serve as a local access to residents and businesses, McConnell's office said.
McConnell’s office said the improved access will bring economic growth opportunities to the undeveloped area between Murray and Hazel.
The new 641 will eventually connect with a highway being planned on the Tennessee side.
McConnell said in the release the expansion will bring “much-needed safety improvements and economic development to Calloway County.”
Both Judge-Executive Kenny Imes and incoming State Representative Larry Elkins (formerly judge-executive) thanked McConnell in the release for supporting the effort and expect the new road will improve safety and benefit the local economy.
City and county leaders have long advocated for the expansion. The project has also topped a list of priority road projects in the region.
Imes said the project is “huge” for the region. “Besides the safety issue, which I think is the primary concern, and the convenience of it, this will be the most tremendous economic boom to our economy here, I think, once it’s finished out and Tennessee gets their part done.”
For Imes, ‘long-anticipated’ means half a lifetime. “Between the 68/80 projects and 641, when I was in the General Assembly before [in the 1970s] was when we authorized and actually built 641 North,” he said. “The overall project was, in my mind, even 35 years ago, was to have a full four-lane north and south. We’re going to be four-lane north and south. Four lanes east and west. Right here in the center of Calloway County.”
Imes noted with the road providing quicker access to I-40 in Tennessee, the project will benefit travelers and commercial traffic alike and could bring more people into Murray and Murray State. Imes envisions as nearby cities like Nashville grow, communities around Land Between the Lakes could become a recreational mecca. “It’s just absolutely unlimited where we could be five years, ten years from now.” He described the need for local leaders to work together on various large-scale infrastructure projects such as roads, plumbing and the energy grid to prepare Calloway County for the future.
Murray Mayor Jack Rose said the project is a “fantastic economic development tool” for the community as well for neighboring Henry County, Tennessee. Rose said he’s excited that the project came together and credited the joint effort by city and county officials as well as local economic development leaders.
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokesperson Keith Todd said the cabinet has committed to funding for the right-of-way and design work leading up to construction. To get the grant, he said, the road has to be ready for construction by September 2020. “So that gives us enough timeline to do the rest of the necessary production work to get there,” Todd said. He said options are still being considered with regard to design.
The funding for the 5.7 miles does not include the first mile from the south of Murray to around the Clarks River Bridge, which is a separate project. For that separate mile-long project, Todd said, right-of-way purchasing is complete and the City of Murray is in the process of moving utilities. As for the rest of the road to the state line, Todd said environmental studies are ongoing and preliminary design work is underway.
The total cost of the 5.7 mile project, Todd said, is estimated to be around $40 million. Aside from the $23 million grant, the remainder would come from normal design and process funding, according to Todd.
According to a safety assessment, between January 2012 to December 2016, police reported 119 crashes along a three-mile section of U.S. 641. Around halfway between Murray and Hazel, the traffic count is 5,984 average vehicles per day, according to a 2017 count. The number jumps to 7,320 closer to the south part of Murray.
This story has been updated.