It’s time to work together to help our county

Published 11:15 pm Friday, February 7, 2020

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If you can’t say something good, it’s best to say nothing at all.

This is the approach I’m convinced Harlan Countains must take on the news that the completion of U.S. 421 to the Virginia line is on the most recent state road plan. This road won’t solve all our problems by any means, but it’s a positive step forward. We have to take the first step before we can take the second, third and fourth, and we have plenty of other needs because we’ve spent years fighting among ourselves and accomplishing nothing by doing so.

This isn’t about politics or whether you like the current governor. It’s about being able to compromise to do what’s best for Harlan County, even if it solves only one of a dozen needs we have here. If we work together, we have one less need in a few years. If we continue fighting, we’ll have the same list in a couple of years. Arguing that another road is more important than U.S. 421 could mean we get what we usually do from the state — nothing.

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State officials aren’t going to say “Harlan Countians want that money spent on 119 or 38, so we’ll just change it to that.”

They will simply give the money to Pike County or Laurel County for another road there, just like they’ve done for the last 60 years. We have to fight for the four miles we can get to Virginia now, then try to get 30 miles on U.S. 119 to Pineville next.

It’s the only smart move. It’s the move that other counties have used for decades.

This will be a test for our current legislators, all living outside of Harlan County, whether they really want to fight for Harlan County or just want our votes every few years. It doesn’t matter in the least to me whether they are Democrat or Republican, or Communist or Fascist. This is about helping Harlan County, not supporting your favorite team/party, teams that really care nothing about our county.

While having Virginia jump on board and connecting the improved road to Kingsport and U.S. 26 would be ideal, it’s my feeling we have to do our part first. Even if it only gets us to the Virginia line, it eliminates one dangerous section of highway over the mountain at Cranks and gets us that much closer to the outside world.

There is no doubt we need a four-lane U.S. 119 between Harlan and Pineville, if not all the way to Cumberland, and it would also be nice to get around to connecting Harlan and Hazard with an improved U.S. 421 or an entirely new road. It still blows my mind to think a direct road between Harlan and Hazard could cut the transportation time between the two towns to 30 minutes.

While all those options make sense for Harlan County’s future, it’s unrealistic to believe we could get them all at once, and if we’ve learned nothing from history it’s that if we don’t work together we get nothing. If U.S. 421 to Virginia is on a state plan it’s time to get on board and get it done, then move to the next project.

It’s not the time for debate. It’s time to unify and get something accomplished for Harlan County.