Widening Paris Pike took more than 35 years of discussion and construction. Now it’s a model for preserving nature and history
Every morning, Bourbon Countians Charles and Lisa Farmer pull onto Paris Pike northeast of Lexington. Between driving back and forth to work and carting their three children to tennis, band, basketball, and academic team practice, they drive on the 13-mile strip of US 27/68 nearly five times a day. That’s 35 trips a week—more than 25,000 miles a year. Now they have a safe, enjoyable road on which to drive.
“It’s a four-lane road that looks like a drive through the country,” says Farmer. “There’s no commercialism. It’s naturally beautiful.”
But the safety and natural beauty the Farmers and 16,000 other Paris Pike travelers enjoy every day did not come overnight.
In 1966, narrow lane-widths and the absence of adequate shoulders led the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to propose widening the highly traveled road to a four-lane highway. Determined to protect the mature trees, lush horse farm frontages, and historic rock walls that cradled the rural corridor, citizens, farmers, and landowners staunchly resisted the proposal. In 1979, a coalition of affected landowners along with the Land and Nature Trust of the Bluegrass filed a civil lawsuit in the Federal District Court, and won an injunction to halt the project.
For more than 20 years, those opposed to losing another Bluegrass road to the blade of a bulldozer locked horns with Kentucky Transport Cabinet officials. But numerous accidents continued to plague the scenic strip. In 1991, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and concerned landowners reached an unprecedented agreement. The court lifted the injunction, noting that the critical agreement required the state to hire a design team and comply with the environmental and historical concerns of the citizens.
Preventing Paris Pike from becoming like so many other rural byways that had turned into billboard-studded eyesores required the involvement of a variety of people. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet assembled a team of roadway design specialists, historic preservationists, construction and surveying crews, landscape architects, and environmental specialists. At the core of the project were outspoken citizens who knew the value of their land, history, and culture.
Charlie Scott, project manager for Jones and Jones Architects and Landscape Architects, which worked on Paris Pike, says, “The citizens groups that initially opposed the project and then continued to be very outspoken made this project come together. They held the state accountable to come up with a design team that could develop a good product for everyone.”
That product looked at first like an impossible puzzle. Safety was a number-one concern. But construction also needed to be historically and culturally sensitive. Paris Pike was one of the first roads built west of the Allegheny Mountains, marking an early Kentucky trail that connected Maysville to Lexington. There were also miles of woodlands, stone fences built in the early 1800s, and horse farms that required the rich silt loam topsoil for grazing pastures. Another development vs. preservation conflict arose from the terrain of the original central Kentucky highway as it gently rolled around valleys and curved over bluffs and knolls.
“Paris Pike is a heavily traveled, yet rural road,” says Chuck Craycraft, of H.W. Lochner, the Lexington engineering company that worked on the Paris Pike project. “We wanted to maintain the aspects that people found attractive and meet the engineering requirements that the traffic demanded.”
In 1997, construction began on the first segment in Bourbon County.
Utility lines were routed around trees and other natural features. Timber-covered guardrails coupled a rustic aesthetic with the safety of reinforced steel retainers. The stabilized grass shoulders provided a softening aspect that nestled the road into the land, unlike the typical gravel and asphalt shoulders that give roadways a “freeway” feel. Manufactured stone veneer was used on concrete retaining walls, bridge abutments, and bridge rails. When moving rock walls could not be avoided, the state hired a master dry stonemason from Scotland to train artisans for the reconstruction of 3.5 miles of stone fence.
The design team called for planting thousands of native trees, for hedgerows and grasses between the shoulders and right-of-way lines to minimize intrusion into the landscape, and to serve as a replacement for the original hedgerows and wooded fence lines.
Landscapers then carried out those plans, as well as harvesting, warehousing, and respreading silt loam topsoil in its original quantity along the road.
The total cost of design and construction came to more than $70 million. Property acquisition, utility relocation, and other factors raised the cost to $93 million, making Paris Pike one of the most expensive highways in the United States.
“It’s hard to determine the economic value of a road like Paris Pike,” says Charlie Scott. “When you take away the historic homes, the horse farm entrances, the stone fences, you take away the value of all adjacent property and the tourist appeal of that corridor.”
Paris Pike’s new curves have not gone unnoticed. The Federal Highway Administration, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have all awarded the project for its environmental and historical sensitivity. Paris Pike is being touted as the 21st-century model for “context sensitive” highway planning and regional smart growth.
Highway expansion often occurs as a result of commercial or residential development, and corridors such as Paris Pike can lose their unique features. Bluegrass Tomorrow, a regional planning organization, works with 14 local governments in the Lexington metropolitan area representing 14 county regions, to hold smart-growth planning workshops to prevent such losses.
In 1989, Bluegrass Tomorrow formed as a nonprofit coalition of business owners, civic leaders, farmers, and preservationists who wanted to see sensible growth principles applied to the central Kentucky counties of Woodford, Bourbon, Fayette, Jessamine, Scott, Clark, and Madison. Bluegrass Tomorrow also works to protect farmland, renew flagging urbanscapes, and preserve historical landscapes.
“We want to preserve the spiritual heart of a town, the downtown, as well as preserve green space, especially for the horse industry of the Bluegrass,” says President and CEO Stephen Austin. “The 21st-century planning model takes its cues from an environmental justice philosophy that demands citizen input.”
Austin sees education of the community as the key to planning.
“I try to paint a picture of where the region should be, and offer ways to get there,” says Austin.
He paints that picture with a presentation of satellite photography that re-creates what the Bluegrass area looked like in the 1900s and then shows a progressive simulation of its current growth.
“The Indians and animals came to this area for the same reason settlers came here and why people have remained—the soil and water. I’m looking for ways to tell this story,” says Austin.
Regional planning groups such as Bluegrass Tomorrow have flourished in the last 10 years as small-town communities watch the urban sprawl of large and mid-size cities cause traffic congestion, overcrowded schools, and strains on emergency services.
Paris, a town whose population has changed little in the last 100 years, is poised for a growth explosion. Now that Paris Pike, the primary route from small-town Paris to big-city Lexington, is complete, numerous small communities in Bourbon County stand to grow economically and residentially.
But most of the citizens of Paris, like Jeanine Scott, director of the Paris-Bourbon County Tourism Commission, want smart growth.
“When you have planned, controlled growth, you attract more people to your area. Then shops, attractions, and restaurants come in and that’s good for tourists and residents as well.”
CEMETERY ROAD SUCCESS—ASKING PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT
Similar to Paris Pike’s history, the proposed construction of an I-65 interchange and the widening of KY 234 known as Cemetery Road in Warren County failed in the 1980s because of citizen concern about congestion and commercialization. Community meetings were held about the proposed development as Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials sought a solution that would meet the concerns of the public.
Through cooperation among landowners, transportation specialists, and local officials, Cemetery Road became Bowling Green’s Green Front Door, a corridor that is sensitive to the needs of the community and the context in which it was developed.
“Context sensitive design basically means putting the right thing in the right way for the right place,” says Jeff Moore, planning branch manager for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet in Bowling Green. “We are going to the community and asking what they want well before pen meets paper.”
The work on Cemetery Road included the widening of KY 234 to five lanes as well as the construction of an interchange with I-65. Extensive landscaping and stonework were used as visual buffers for adjacent neighborhoods and the new road also boasts the community’s first multi-purpose path for pedestrians and bikes.
A GUIDE TO SMART GROWTH
Concerned and informed citizens are critical in smart growth planning and scenic corridor management.
Bluegrass Tomorrow’s CEO and President Stephen Austin suggests that any group of citizens can prevent unsafe growth by being aware of proposed commercial, residential, and highway development before construction begins.
“If the bulldozer’s at your back door, we can’t help you,” says Austin. “Be aware of any development in your region.”
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Bluegrass Tomorrow developed the Bluegrass Corridor Management Planning Handbook to assist citizen groups that want to preserve historic corridors.
The handbook outlines a process that includes forming an advisory group of stakeholders, concerned landowners, and community members. Bluegrass Tomorrow also suggests gathering data for existing conditions, such as crash data to gauge the corridor’s safety and traffic counts that tally its congestion.
Advisory groups also need to identify all corridor features, which include agricultural, commercial, and historic areas, as well as residential areas, archaeological sites, or toxic waste dumps. Once such an environmental footprint has been taken, citizens should meet with transportation officials to assess and select alternatives.
Copies of the Bluegrass Corridor Management Planning Handbook can be obtained by contacting Bluegrass Tomorrow at (859) 259-9829 or on the Internet at www.bluegrasstomorrow.org.