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Money approved for work on U.S. 421 at Cranks

The Kentucky General Assembly has approved $15 million for work on U.S. 421 from Cranks to the Virginia line, according to a state representative who said it is the first step in completing the project.

Chris Fugate, who represents the 84th District, confirmed the money was approved for the state’s 2022 road plan.

“This is real money. It’s not just in the road plan to say it’s in the road plan,” Fugate said. “It’s been promised for a long time, but we’ll see some things done.”

Fugate said the $15 million would not complete the final three miles from Cranks to the Virginia state line, but noted it was an important step in finishing the road.

The 13-mile U.S. 421 expansion project from Grays Knob to the Virginia line began in 1999 but stopped three miles short of its completion in 2004. Governor Andy Beshear promised last summer on the campaign trail that the project would completed.

“I am going to prioritize infrastructure projects that open up entire regions and put people in good paying jobs, and that’s what the 421 project is,” Beshear told the Enterprise in June. “We only have a few miles to build on it and it opens up not just Harlan, but the rest of the region for commerce. It will help create jobs and boost local tourism and adventure tourism.”

“I am so excited that funding for this section of roadway that Harlan Countians have fought for years to see construction restarted on stayed in the road plan,” said Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley. “I’m thankful that Governor Beshear honored his commitment by putting it in the plan, and that Senator Johnny Ray Turner, Representative Adam Bowling and Representative Chris Fugate worked together to make sure this important project stayed funded and in the road plan. It’s an example of bipartisan cooperation that gets things done for our citizens. I can’t wait to see this project move forward.”

Fugate said he and 87th District state representative Adam Bowling met with transportation chairman Sal Santaro to push for the project. He said the project would need funding for several years after 2022 to complete.

“It was such a relief to see the project still funded on the last version of the road funding bill,” Bowling said. :Myself and Rep. Fugate met numerous times with House leadership to emphasize and explain the importance of the project. We felt good where things stood when the bill left the House but once it went over to the Senate, I was nervous what the road plan would look like when we got it back. To see it still in there when we moved for final passage, that was a good day.”

“This is a start,” Fugate said. “The total project will cost between $70 million and $80 million. Some money is better than no money. This will get us started on the last three miles.”

Meetings have taken place between Kentucky and Virginia officials to ensure work will be completed in both states to improve access for the region.

“This is big for Harlan County due to the access to Virginia,” Fugate said. “We met with officials from Virginia last fall about them finishing their end. We hope to work together with Virginia so this will help boost tourism and the economy for both states. There will be more meetings between the two states.”

Even though many have suggested that having one representative focusing solely on Harlan County would be better than two who represent multiple counties, Fugate said the 421 project shows that “two voices are better than one” in helping our area.

Mosley said the project should signal a start in improving access to Harlan County, an area that has been bypassed for decades while road funding was distributed to other sections of eastern Kentucky.

“Harlan Countians haven’t seen a major highway project in nearly two decades. We need a lot of highway improvements, to 421 across Pine Mountain, KY 38 to the Virginia line, and additional expansions along U.S. 119, a road we need four-laned for safety, economic and tourism benefit,” he said. “This funding for 421 South is a major step in seeing Harlan County transportation infrastructure improved and, hopefully, more of our transportation needs prioritized and funded in the near future.”

“I’m excited for Harlan County. This has been a long time coming and a project that is desperately needed,” Bowling said. “The taxpayers of Harlan County deserve this and it’s just step one. We must keep our eye on the ball to see this project finished all the way to the Virginia line.”

Bowling noted several other projects were approved for Harlan County, including several bridges, “bringing the total right at $27 million over the next two years,” he said.

“It was such a relief to see the project still funded on the last version of the road funding bill,” Bowling said. “Myself and Rep. Fugate met numerous times with House leadership to emphasize and explain the importance of the project.  We felt good where things stood when the bill left the House, but once it went over to the Senate I was nervous what the road plan would look like when we got it back. To see it still in there when we moved for final passage, that was a good day.”