Whitesburg KY

Welcome center funds may be lost in 60 days

The City of Jenkins is likely to lose $600,000 in federal money allocated for a proposed welcome center on US 23 at Pound Gap if construction on the long-planned facility does not begin within 60 days.

Mayor Charles Dixon told the Jenkins City Council he had received a letter from 94th District State Representative Leslie Combs telling him the news after Combs learned of the matter from the Kentucky Department of Transportation. The transportation department holds the funds and will administer them in the event the city can come up with a solution.

Dixon, addressing the council at its February meeting on Monday, said time has run out on the welcome center funding authorized under the federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. Dixon said the TEA-21 grant will probably be confiscated by the Transportation Cabinet if quick action isn’t taken.

The city does not have a deed to Virginia state line, nor does it have the necessary architectural plans. Dixon said the city had voted in 2003 to accept a bid to design the project from Whitesburg architect Bill Richardson, but lack of a deed and regulatory issues had delayed the project.

The project was originated a decade ago by 94th District Rep. Paul Mason of Whitesburg, but has been hampered by a variety of issues since. Ironically, most of the delays were caused by state funding agencies or state regulatory agencies. State transportation officials have told the city they will not allocate money or staff or operate any welcome center other than those located on interstate highways.

US 23 is listed as part of the Itractor 26 corridor in Tennessee and North Carolina, but has no such designation in Virginia or Kentucky. If constructed, the rest stop would be the only one located on U.S. 23 between the North Carolina Tennessee state line and the town of Waverly in southern Ohio. Dixon expressed his frustration over the prospect of losing the money as well as the possibility that no center will be built.

“This has been in the works for ten years,” said Dixon. “The state has no concern for the interest of the driving public or for tourism.”

Dixon said Combs has done all she could to forestall the confiscation of the $600,000 and has assured him that if the project becomes viable in the future she will work to obtain state funding to replace the TEA-21 funds.

Several council members suggested the city move quickly to get something started, but with number of roadblocks make it unlikely the grant can be saved. City Engineer Paul Nesbitt told the council that approval of water and sewer extensions to the site is just now being considered by the Kentucky Division of Water.

City Attorney Randall Tackett said he could speed up the process of getting a deed for the land, but said construction would have to begin within a specified period or the property would revert back to its original owner.

“We have another problem,” said Tackett. “Once we take the deed, the clock starts on the building. The situation is that the state isn’t interested in it (staffing and maintenance) and the city and county can’t afford it. The city can’t shoulder the load.”

Dixon said Combs had told him that as a last resort the city could possibly contract with a fast food chain to build a welcome center attached to a restaurant but that no negotiations were underway. Dixon also voiced concern about another $500,000 the city has in state funding for the center that rests in an account in Community Trust bank. He said that so far, these funds have not been threatened.

“It would gall me to the max to have to send the $500,000 in the Community Trust Bank here back to Frankfort,” said Dixon.

Leave a Reply