HAZEL — When the executive officers of every jurisdiction in a county are in the same room, it is the tell-tale sign that something important is happening.
That was the case Tuesday at Hazel Baptist Church, host for a public meeting on route options for the expansion of U.S. 641 South between Murray and the Tennessee state line, just a few yards from the church parking lot. Murray Mayor Bob Rogers, Calloway County Judge-Executive Kenny Imes and Hazel Mayor John “Scooter” Paschall all were there, and all were quite interested in the subject at hand.
They also were quite impressed with the turnout, estimated to be at least 400 visitors.
“They’re taking full of advantage of it,” said Paschall, who mostly greeted visitors at the entrance of the church gymnasium, where officials from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and other groups had positioned several areas for visitors to receive information. “I was here earlier in the day, though, and was able to get a look at everything, so I’ve seen what I needed to see.
“I think we were expecting between 200 and 250 people for this and I’m pretty sure we’ve passed that. We just weren’t expecting it to be in one big bunch like it’s been, but that’s fine. It’s been a real good turnout and this is what I think (KYTC officials) were needing and were wanting to get done. They wanted opinions of people who are going to be in the line of fire, so to speak (some properties have route options designed to go through them). This is the chance for anyone that wanted to do it to come out and get some questions answered.”
One thing that concerned Imes coming into Tuesday is the timing of moving the project forward. The big reason the 641 South expansion had reached the point of having a meeting like this was because the county was awarded $23 million in December from what is known as a BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) grant. This program is overseen by the U.S. Department of Transportation and offered a total of $1.5 billion through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.
Funds must be obligated by Sept. 30, 2020, and must be paid out by Sept. 30, 2025.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do over the next 18 months,” Imes said. “Here’s the thing, though; if we don’t get this thing moving, we could lose the grant and that would be an absolute disaster. Hopefully, we’ll be turning dirt here before too long.”
He said the large turnout Tuesday was a pleasant sight.
“This shows that a community can wrap its head around something important and get involved, and I really think everybody is on the same page with this,” Imes said. “Federal regulations mandate that you have meetings like this, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to have a lot of people coming to it. I was really hoping for maybe 250, and I think that would’ve been pretty good. This is really awesome. I’m amazed at it.”
Along with many Hazel and Calloway County residents, there was a healthy contingent from Murray, and Rogers said he was not very surprised by that.
“All you’ve got to do is to go to South 12th Street every afternoon or morning and you see how all of the vehicles are coming and going any time you try to cross that street. You know how long it takes very quickly,” Rogers said. “I just think it opens up our area to the south. That means you can have people coming to Murray or anywhere else in western Kentucky, or maybe connecting to I-69 (the interstate transverses the Purchase Area between Fulton and Calvert City via the Julian Carroll Purchase Parkway).
“It’s also going to open up a whole new avenue that people haven’t had before. Instead of driving a two-lane road with no shoulders and that has been so unsafe in the past, you’re gong to have something with more room that is safer.”
Rogers also focused on what this means for Murray.
“It’s going to be mean a lot for us. We’re going to have more people coming into town and it’s going to open up (the southern) end,” he said, joining Imes in endorsing the option that takes the new road on a more western path from the existing 641 South. “The east (option) is much more expensive because you’re going to be having to build some bridges and overpasses, you’ll have to elevate the road so that it’s not interfering in wetlands. It makes more sense to go west, I think.”
Paschall, meanwhile, continued to provide a friendly handshake and smile as he continued greeting the many visitors at the door. In between, though, he was able to share how important he believes having all three of Calloway County’s executive officers in the same building Tuesday is to the community.
“This is not something that just affects us here in the City of Hazel,” he said. “It’s about unity through the whole community. We’re not separate on this. It’s all one entity with the idea that everything we’re doing is going to result in growth, and we’re going to all grow together.”