While many will celebrate today the completion of the bypass around Georgetown with the opening of the final leg between Long Lick Pike and U.S. 25, the project was very controversial at the very beginning.
In fact, it almost did not happen when the Scott County Fiscal Court rejected a proposal to help pay for right-of-ways, and then-and now Georgetown Mayor Tom Prather had to break a 4-4 city council vote to move forward with the project. Prather almost didn’t have an opportunity to cast that deciding vote until newly elected council member Don Hawkins cast the tying vote under tremendous pressure from other council members and a packed audience.
Prather was a young, inexperienced mayor in the late 1980s, but his leadership in those early days enabled the bypass project to proceed. The city did not have the funds to make those purchases, but Prather knew without the bypass it would be almost impossible to move around Georgetown. So, he gambled despite stiff opposition. Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky was under construction and all indications were the bypass was necessary to manage the increased traffic. The fiscal court’s refusal to share the purchase costs of the right-of-ways enabled a a young George Lusby to eventually win election as judge-executive because of his support for the project.
Then-Kentucky Secretary of Transportation Milo Bryant agreed to apply some federal funding for the actual construction costs for the bypass, but he felt strongly the city and county should have some skin in the game and share the costs for the right-of-ways — an estimated total of $3.75 million. Bryant told local leaders if the city and county did not make such an agreement immediately, he would redirect the funds elsewhere.
Without the support of the fiscal court and knowing the city’s financial situation, Prather was forced to take a risk. He negotiated a loan with Bryant and the state to buy the right-of-way rights and then lobbied gubernatorial candidate Brereton Jones to forgive the loan if elected. When Jones was elected governor, he made good on his promise and included funding for the right-of-way purchases in his state budget.
But without Prather’s gamble, it is possible the bypass would have never happened or at best it would have been delayed years.
Even so, the project has taken almost 35 years, and the early controversies were not the only to be overcome to reach this day. The leg between 460 and Long Lick Pike was delayed for a couple of years when residents of Canewood Estates complained the route was too near their property line. The route of the bypass had to be redirected.
The bypass was a massive project and there are many, many people who deserve credit for its completion. Over the past decade or so State Sen. Damon Thayer has made funding each leg of the bypass a priority.
“I’m grateful to have worked with Scott County’s state representatives over the years to get the money in the road budget: Charlie Hoffman, Ryan Quarles, Chuck Tackett and Phillip Pratt,” Thayer said. “Road projects should be nonpartisan and four governors were committed to this road and its various sections: Ernie Fletcher, Steve Beshear, Matt Bevin and Andy Beshear. I’m thankful to them for pushing it to completion.
“I consider this road one of my major accomplishments.”
We would not attempt to name all the elected officials — local or state — or local leaders who have had a hand in this bypass project, but it is truly an example of leaders putting aside partisan politics for a common goal.
But Prather probably deserves a special nod for his vision and courage especially during those early days.
“This is a dream come true,” Prather said upon hearing the announcement of the bypass completion. “This is a dream we’ve been working on for 30 years.”