Whitesburg KY
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Much-needed roadwork now underway here

Construction of two very visible road improvements in Letcher County is expected to be completed sometime in November, state Highway Department officials say.

Paving on US 23 from the KY 805 bridge to the Virginia state line began on Monday after several weeks of milling. It is expected to be complete in three to four weeks, District Engineer Mary Westfall- Holbrook said. The completion is dependent on the weather.

The road up Pine Mountain toward the Virginia line at Pound Gap is the worst major highway in Letcher County, with potholes and whole sections of asphalt missing in places.

Westfall-Holbrook said she does not know when the road was last paved, or why it has deteriorated so much.

“It has a lot of issues, and I can’t pinpoint what it was,” she said.

The paving project passes US 119, which is currently at the design stage of a major rebuild. Planning has already been going on for several years, and Westfall- Holbrook said the road has been boosted by the Kentucky River Area Development District. The planning has been difficult because of the road’s location.

“That’s a tough area with the Pine Mountain Fault,” she said. “If we touch that fault line, we will continue to chase it, because it’s on a slide line.”

Pine Mountain is a thrust-fault caused by the collision of continental plates. The rock strata lie on an angle, with layer of shale, sandstone and limestone. If water gets into the layers, the rocks above slide off. The same problems are seen on US 119 South near Whitesburg, where the Highway Department has to keep repairing breaks in the road edge, and removing rockslides.

One part of the US 119 project is expected to be finished about the same time as the paving on US 23. Westfall-Holbrook said the new bridge on KY 2034 at its intersection with US 119 and Cougar Drive is expected to be finished in about a month, but the deciding factor is the discovery of a buried fiber optic line that designers weren’t aware of before construction began.

Utilities are normally moved prior to a project beginning.

“In this case, the fiber optics was not shown on the plans and was discovered during construction activities,” Westfall-Holbrook said. “The contractor is working with the utility owner, this shouldn’t be a hold-up but could cause a short delay in finalizing the project.”

When complete, the new bridge will hold three lanes of traffic, compared to two for the bridge it replaces. The old bridge was built in 1921.

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