Realignment of US 119 North at Payne Gap will eliminate a deadly curve near the entrance to Fishpond Lake and create a new entrance to the Gateway Business Park at Jenkins.
State statistics cover just five years beginning in 2010, but show 19 collisions between the end of the fourlane and the first cemetery at Payne Gap, a distance of a little more than a mile. At least three fatal accidents have occurred in a curve near Fishpond, but those were prior to 2010.
The new alignment of the road will run north and east of its current path. The road will travel up onto a ridge parallel to the access road to Fishpond Lake, and move the entrance to the lake, eliminating the steep slope vehicles must now climb to enter the park. A new entrance to the Gateway Business Park will be built just past the new Fishpond entrance, allowing an entry into the industrial site near the Wings Air Rescue helicopter base.
The new road will curve back toward its existing path and reconnect near the intersection with US 23.
The road section is part of a widening project that will extend portions of four-lane between Whitesburg and Jenkins, and widen other parts to three lanes from the exiting two.
The section at Payne Gap will not get four lanes, but will be built wide enough for a fourth lane to be added by simply repaving later, said Kevin Damron, a former State Highway Department engineer who is the project manager for Palmer Engineering.
“What we have been contracted to do is basically construct a new three-lane highway up the mountain,” Damron said.
Construction will begin this summer on the first section of the planned reconstruction project, but the Fishpond Lake section won’t get started until at least 2019.
The first project to be completed will be widening the road to three lanes between Pine Mountain Junction at Whitesburg and the red light at Letcher County Central High School.
The road beginning at Pine Mountain Junction will include new turn lanes, and improvement of the turn lanes at the ending intersection. The next sections are not yet ready for construction, but preliminary plans laid out on aerial photographs and shown to the public, show the road will be widened to four lanes from the current two between the red light at the high school and the existing four-lane at Brass Drive, and the existing four-lane will be extended from the intersection at KY 1862 to the Mayking Mall. The road will get spot improvements to turn lanes from there to the next section of four-lane Kona.