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Paris Pike

Credit: Dry Stone Conservancy

A scenic road connecting Lexington and Paris, the beauty of Kentucky’s Paris Pike was historically overshadowed by safety hazards and congestion. The original two-lane rural highway extended over 13.5 miles of rolling hills dotted with 29 of the states’ oldest farms, but suffered from a lack of a hard shoulder and passing or turning lanes, a deadly combination that gave the road a significantly higher accident fatality rate than the average two-lane road.

Since the 1960s, numerous efforts to improve the stretch of road were met with staunch resistance from local groups. In the early 1990s a proposal from the Kentucky Transportation Center (KTC) to build a standard four-lane highway was once again met with opposition from local communities concerned about irreparable harm to the corridor’s history and natural landscape.

After KTC released its final design plans for the expanded highway, local opponents sued, taking the state transportation agency to court for violating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Opponents successfully argued for an injunction on the grounds that the agency did not properly solicit public input on the project – a key component of the review process under NEPA. The judge ordered KTC to return to the planning process and seek a workable alternative to the highway that would meet demands of both parties.

This time, KTC performed extensive historic research and robust public outreach, holding hearings for community members to cooperatively design a road that fit the aesthetics and contours of the land while minimizing environmental impacts.

The $70 million project, completed in 2003, has received nationally recognized design award, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation cited Paris Pike as a project that “celebrates the spirit of place instead of obliterating it.”

The new design consists of two independent two-lane highways, one northbound and the other southbound, and an added shoulder to increase safety. Existing trees, fences, and stonewalls were either preserved or moved and restored to their original condition.

Environmental improvements include the relocation of more than 3,000 new trees and shrubs, designation of wetland areas, natural wooden guardrails, grass instead of grave shoulders, three miles of stone fence, and the preservation of the natural environment within the median. Additionally, a historic farmhouse was turned into a visitors’ center, generating tourism dollars for a town that would have lost money if Paris Pike were merely expanded. “

“It has been an immensely successful project. It preserved aesthetic integrity while doing what it was supposed to do: increase safety and capacity. It has significantly improved the corridor,” said Cumberland Sierra Club Chapter Chair, Lane Boldman.

Local resident Hank Graddy said going through the NEPA process was essential, noting, “It brought people and ideas to the table that otherwise would not have been there.” Paris Pike represents a true compromise facilitated by the NEPA process—road expansion without accompanying aesthetic and natural destruction.

[1] “Public Partnership – Kentucky’s Paris Pike Reconstruction Project.” AASHTO Quarterly Magazine, Vol. 78, No 2. 1999. Available at: https://trid.trb.org/view/650514

[2] “The Paris to Lexington Road Reconstruction Project.” University of Kentucky, KTC. September 2001. Available at:
http://www.e-archives.ky.gov/pubs/transportation/tc_rpt/ktc_02_02_fr79_96_1f.pdf

[3] “ASLA Announces Its 2002 Professional Awards.” AASLA. April 2, 2002. Available at:
https://www.asla.org/meetings/awards/awds02/parislexroad.html

[4] “The Road to Better Transportation Projects.” Sierra Club and NRDC. 2002. Available at:
https://vault.sierraclub.org/sprawl/nepa/sprawl_report.pdf

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