CALVERT CITY – Marshall County residents turned out in force Thursday night to object to a plan to close the segment of the Julian Carroll Purchase Parkway connecting the Interstate 24 interchange to U.S. 62.
The present cloverleaf interchange must be replaced with one that is compatible with Federal Highway Administration standards for the Interstate Highway System as the parkway is incorporated into that system as Interstate 69.
Two proposals on display at a public hearing on the modification of the interchange of Interstate 24 and the parkway were junked, apparently even before the displays were set up for the public hearing at the Calvert City Convention Center.
Overwhelmingly, residents want to keep the so-called “spur” making a direct flow northward to Calvert City, and straight ahead on State Route 1523 to the Industrial Parkway and the numerous plants that employ thousands of residents of the local area and the region.
Transportation Cabinet officials got the message, and said they would bring back alternative plans to another public hearing later this year.
“I think people are generally happy that we’re going back to the drawing board to see if we can mitigate the local concern that they have,” said Gary Valentine, deputy state highway engineer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
However, Valentine reiterated the primary mission is to meet federal standards and national, not local, objectives.
“We’ve got to think about the traveler going from Michigan to Texas,” he said. He added, “Anything that we do we will have to get approved by the Federal Highway Administration.”
Calvert City resident Paul Smith was one of approximately 300 citizens who attended the public meeting. Smith, who commutes to a job in Paducah, was skeptical.
“I think everybody here, or the people I know anyway, are all concerned over the closure of the spur,” Smith said. “And [transportation officials are] not here today to address that. They’re just saying they’ve got other options that they’re going to be bringing forward. I think they had their plan and then they saw the public outcry and they decided to back up and look at a better option.”
Neither of the proposals on display even included the feature that had residents up in arms. Maps, which Transportation Cabinet officials said depicted “a footprint” of the project, showed the final couple of thousand yards of the Parkway, from the I-24 interchange north to the traffic signal at U.S. 62, remaining intact.
But previous plans of the proposed new interchange deleted that segment of four-lane highway, which makes a transition from a limited-access, Interstate-type freeway to the terminal point of the parkway at U.S. 62.
The maps on display Thursday did not show any details of the proposed replacement interchange, just a color-coded explanation of the space that would be required.
Aerial photos of “major Interstate splits” were included in a handout that was distributed to citizens. The intersections include high-speed “flyover” ramps that enable traffic to flow in multiple directions without the need to slow down.
Photos showed the I-24 junction with I-57 in southern Illinois and the split of I-57 and I-64 north of Mount Vernon, Illinois, as well as the merger of I-75 and I-64 in Lexington and the split of I-24 and I-59 west of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
A dead-end T-intersection would isolate Calvert City. Traffic headed to and from Calvert City would be required to make a detour of nearly three miles along U.S. 62 to I-24 at Exit 27. According to traffic flow measurements, some 7,000 cars travel the Purchase Parkway spur daily.
Former state representative J.R. Gray of Benton called the proposals “no good,” and was emphatic in his criticism.
“To me, it’s just ridiculous to talk about shutting down that end of the Purchase Parkway there when it’s a perfectly good strip of road and it serves a very good purpose for the plants in Calvert City and all the people that work here,” Gray said. “I think it’s just asinine that so far they have not come up with an idea that they cannot accommodate the interests of the motoring public, the safety of the motoring public, and still have an I-69 corridor through here. I’m all for I-69. But I’m 100 percent opposed to the way they’re going about it with all this.”
Calvert City Mayor Lynn Jones praised the process that was at work Thursday night.
“They’ve come tonight in great numbers and I’m very proud,” Jones said. “I think this is the way it ought to happen.”
He acknowledged citizens’ opposition to the potential loss of the connector spur, but said, “It’s going to be federally determined. We have to be understanding. This project is significant – [Interstates] 24, 66, 69 coming together in Calvert City, is really one awesome moment and it provides to us great economic opportunities, far greater than we’ve had in the past.
“I want them to maximize that opportunity. That’s what I want the federal guys to do. I want them to listen to everybody, but I want them to maximize the opportunity.”