Ring Road extension is piece of puzzle

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Column by Ben Sheroan, editor

By Ben Sheroan

Standing on the exit ramp pavement to dedicate the Ring Road extension and its new interchange with Western Kentucky Parkway, state Rep. Jimmie Lee made his vision clear. This is not the end of the road.

The 76-year-old legislator is devoted to the Elizabethtown loop reaching Interstate 65. Standing on the pavement for Thursday’s ceremony, highway officials were well aware that the interstate is less than a mile from where Ring Road now ends.

Before the ceremony, Lee pulled aside the District 4 highway office’s chief engineer to discuss details about money needed for the next step. He is so emphatic about the need for the project that folks watching that conversation out of earshot said it looked like an argument.

Although he’s well past retirement age, Lee is intense and clear in his objectives. He is willing to invest two more years of his life largely to ensure that Elizabethtown gets a third I-65 exit.

As the next state budget is developed, he will work to ensure that an estimated $5 million is dedicated to complete environmental studies, finish design and acquire rights of way.

“That’s about all you can get accomplished in the biennium,”he said.

Nothing is in stone obviously and nothing in highway construction moves quickly.

Studies and designs can take longer than the actual construction of a one-mile road and interchange. This newest extension to the parkway took nine years from start to finish. Some of the work waited years while property owners fought the acquisition of their land through the legal system.

Connecting with I-65 also will require federal involvement and more reviews, which adds to the timetable.

While a new exit with I-65 could stimulate development on the south side of town and would be seen as a boon to existing industrial parks, economic development is not a factor federal highway officials take into consideration.

The value in safety, transportation and possibly even convenience for Fort Knox are more likely justifications that will be employed. To get federal approval for an interchange, the state likely will have to develop multiple, redundant plans to outline options.

But it starts with money and interest from state government. Lee sees that as something he is uniquely positioned to secure, thanks to his 20 years of legislative seniority and position in the state House’s majority party.

To protect this and other local interests, he may run for another term. Some other Democrats and possibly a local Republican or two may have something to say about that. Certainly, voters in the 25th District will have a say at the ballot box.

But rest assured, Jimmie Lee continues to demonstrate energy, interest and fire.

This is not a long-time incumbent holding onto the office. He is holding office.

That was obvious once again last week on the Western Kentucky Parkway exit ramp. He can visualize the goal and is willing to lead the charge.

Ben Sheroan is editor of The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at 270-505-1764 or bsheroan@thenewsenterprise.com.