Construction will begin next month on an extension of Ky. 80 that will create a four-lane southern bypass around Mayfield.

The two-mile extension connects Ky. 303 (Cuba Road) at the junction with Ky. 121 in the east to U.S. 45 at Ingersoll Rand Road in the west.

The project was included for construction in 2022 and 2023 in the six-year highway plan state transportation officials released in January 2018, but Rep. Richard Heath of Mayfield said he had a role in seeing the project was accelerated by several years instead.

"That's the advantage of being in the majority party," he said. "I went through the person who was chairing that and working with the people making those decisions and explained the significance that bypass has to the people of Mayfield and Graves County and in other areas of far western Kentucky."

The six-year highway plan is essentially a list of transportation projects officials recommend to the General Assembly. Heath said he spoke to some of those officials about his concerns regarding the length delay in completing the last two miles of the route, which provides a four-lane highway from Bowling Green west to Graves County. Extending the highway will be the shortest route for traffic heading south on Interstate 69 from Bowling Green, Cadiz and Murray.

"The other important issue was all the truck traffic that's having to come by the court square, farmers bringing grain to Mayfield Grain and to Pilgrim's Pride," Heath said.

The traffic adds wear and tear on the roads, and the big vehicles can create safety hazards in downtown areas with a lot of pedestrians, he said.

Heath said he presented figures from Mayfield Grain, Pilgrim's Pride, Hutson Inc., Dairyman's Supply, Progress Rail and the West Kentucky Rural Electric warehouse as part of his lobbying for the project's acceleration, stressing the economic impact.

"What I was able to do was get a truck count from those places I just mentioned and present that information to the Department of Transportation to back up why that was a priority for us to get that finished up, so as a result of that we got it in the 2019-20 budget," Heath said, adding, "When you can back up your claims with documentation, that makes a difference."

Building a relationship with the transportation decision-makers in Frankfort was also important, he said.

Although the state's fiscal year does not start until July 1, Heath said, "The state had enough money to go ahead and get the project started instead of waiting until July."

Heath was present when state transportation officials briefed the Graves County Fiscal Court on the project during the fiscal court's April 8 meeting.

Kyle Poat, chief district engineer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's district 1 office in Reidland, told the court, "I anticipate that we'll be having a pre-construction meeting at the end of this month or first of May. I know they're wanting to get rolling by mid-May for sure."

He spoke further about the projected timeline for completion.

"Optimistically speaking from a weather standpoint for this construction season and next, I think there's a very realistic goal that that section would be open by November of 2020, so you're looking at two construction seasons and that will have that final piece of final connectivity there, which will take you all the way from Bowling Green to, in essence, the Tennessee state line and beyond, really, the four-lane corridor. I know that will be a very key missing piece that has been needed here to finalize that connectivity, so we're glad to see that get going."

Keith Buckhout of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's Office of Public Affairs in Frankfort, said the bidding process to construct the final two miles of the Ky. 80 bypass was opened to contractors in March. Jim Smith Contracting was awarded the bid for $14,152,537.21.

"Signage will be installed, and critical information about road and lane closures will be released in the week before work begins," he said.

Buckhout also gave an updated on the conversion of the Purchase Parkway to I-69 from the Wingo exit to the Tennessee line, saying that it is in the design phase.

"Survey work was performed recently as part of the final design plans to reconstruct the interchange at Wingo (originally designed to accommodate toll booths) to a diamond interchange," Buckhout said. "Funding authorization for right-of-way, utility relocation and construction is dependent on the highway plan and budget session in spring 2020."

Heath expressed his support for that project as well.

"That's on our to-do list when we go back for the 2020 session," he said, calling it next on the list and adding, "It is going to happen."

Graves County Judge-Executive Jesse Perry talked about the importance of both projects to economic development.

"When these roads are finally finished, it's going to open up Graves County," he said. "It's going to spur development."