News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Western Ky. residents express confusion, concern over U.S. 60 Connectivity Study

Concerned citizens and community leaders attend a meeting at Ballard Memorial High School to learn about and give input regarding the U.S. 60 Connectivity Study.
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet
Concerned citizens and community leaders attend a meeting at Ballard Memorial High School to learn about and give input regarding the U.S. 60 Connectivity Study.

A Kentucky Transportation Cabinet study is examining the potential environmental, economic and social impacts of a new U.S. 60 corridor and Ohio River bridge crossing between Barlow and Interstate 57 near Future City, Illinois.

The study will help lawmakers decide to advance either of a pair of potential new corridors or the replacement of the aging U.S. 51 bridge from Wickliffe to Cairo, Illinois – which was built more than 80 years ago and has been deemed functionally obsolete and structurally deficient.

The first of a pair of public open house meetings was held Wednesday evening at Ballard Memorial High School.

Keith Todd, the public information officer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 1, said the study came into being after lawmakers requested information on the potential impacts of “a more direct route” between Interstate 24 in Paducah and I-57 north of Cairo, Illinois.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet

A member of the study’s project team said the majority of the public they’ve interacted with favor the replacement of the U.S. 51 bridge. Many of the more than 300 community members in attendance Wednesday said the estimated potential travel time difference between the conceptual corridors and the bridge replacement is negligible, and that the corridors’ potential environmental impacts, project cost and economic impact to local businesses were concerning.

The cost difference between the three potential projects is large. Todd said the total cost for the conceptual corridors ranges between $1.3 billion and $1.7 billion. The cabinet estimates the replacement of the U.S. 51 bridge would cost around $383 million.

Bruce Hasley has lived in Ballard County for three decades. He said he came to the meeting to support a friend of his who owns property in the path of the conceptual corridors.

“It just doesn't make sense money-wise or environmental-wise to do anything but replace the bridge to me,” he said. “I think that the impact – the amount of money and the disruption to the farmland and to the hunting areas – would be much more than just building a new bridge.”

Wikimedia Commons

Some community members also voiced concern about the potential impact of a conceptual corridor routing traffic around – instead of through – Wickliffe would have on local businesses. KYTC data indicates that around 7,000 vehicles cross the U.S. 51 bridge each day, and that around 35% of those are commercial trucks.

Angie Yu is the president of Two Rivers Fisheries, a Wickliffe-based business that processes and exports carp fished from the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, as well as Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. She said the conceptual corridors would “cut off” Wickliffe from potential economic development opportunities.

“We cannot have any more investors to come to a town [that] is dead. I’m totally against this plan. I think it's stupid,” Yu said. “[It would be] difficult for us to get more investors coming and even more difficult for us to have the workers to hire.”

Derek Yang, Yu’s son, questioned whether local residents would see any benefit at all from either of the conceptual corridors being built.

“We're struggling to see what the benefit of this is outside of graft – like a couple of sweetheart construction deals and a lot of people making some money off of the construction – but I don't see the benefits to the citizens of this area,” he said. “Why spend an extra billion dollars to cut off two towns and to save 2% of the people in Alexandria County (Illinois) maybe 10 minutes on their daily commute? I don't see the value in that.”

The projected travel along the conceptual corridors – 13 minutes and 11 minutes respectively – is roughly half that of the 23-minute travel time for the U.S. 51 bridge route.

Sam Schilli, a wildlife education student at Murray State University, said the potential negative environmental impacts of the conceptual corridors pose a threat to habitats that support local and migratory waterfowl, amphibians and plant life.

“Living in Kentucky, we have some of the most amazing natural resources in the country – so preserving them is really important,” he said. “Keeping [the state’s wilderness intact] is really, really, really important.”

A Ballard County wetland environment
Kentucky Native Plant Society
A Ballard County wetland environment

Each of the potential new corridor options would impact natural wetlands and streams in Ballard County, as well as the Boatwright Wildlife Management Area. A KYTC overview of the study estimates the environmental impact of each of the conceptual corridors. The Boatwright Wildlife Management Area would see between 23 and 68 acres impacted. Estimates also indicated that a minimum of over 4,100 linear feet of local streams and 55 acres of wetlands would be affected.

The replacement of the U.S. 51 bridge would have a significantly smaller environmental impact – just under 600 linear feet of streams and nine acres of wetlands.

Nicole Martin – the communications chair for Ducks Unlimited, a nonprofit conservation group dedicated to protecting waterfowl habitats – said she thinks it’s important to preserve these wetlands and natural environments in Ballard County for future generations.

“It's gonna destroy a lot of wildlife. Even my five year old son is so scared,” Martin said. “He’s just like, ‘What's it gonna do to all the duckies?’ So the fact that he knows it’s something bad like … why not try to fight for his future?”

There are no funds currently identified for future phases of the U.S. 60 Connectivity Study, the conceptual corridors or the bridge replacement.

A second public meeting will be held Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Cairo High School in Illinois.

The final report from the study is expected to be submitted to lawmakers in February.

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
Related Content