LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The groups that have molded opinion on a proposed Louisville-area bypass include elected officials and their surrogates, local and state government agencies, chambers of commerce and industrial development organizations.
Leaders of Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest and 21st Century Parks have attended, as has a UPS public relations official, a banker and a man who described himself as a “landowner.” Another man, an executive with an engineering firm, said he participated as a private citizen after hearing about a meeting.
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet disclosed the names of the “focus group” members this week in response to an open records request by WDRB News, showing for the first time who has been offering input on a study into a proposal that’s been compared to the Gene Snyder Freeway.
The state agency’s decision to target power brokers -- including state representatives and envoys from U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rep. John Yarmuth’s offices – has raised concerns from some residents who believe their voices also ought to be heard during the study.
“I think that we should have been involved, and they should have taken the heat – whatever it was -- on whatever we said, rather than keep this secret and not fully consider our issues,” said Bert Stocker, who lives in eastern Jefferson County.
(State officials have said public involvement would occur at a later date if a project is chosen and pursued.)
Stocker is a member of the Fisherville Area Neighborhood Association, a group that has been instrumental in crafting a plan that will guide future development and infrastructure in southeastern Jefferson County along the Floyds Fork corridor.
The Transportation Cabinet and its consultants are weighing 15 routes – including 3 on existing roads – for a possible “regional connector” that would link Interstate 71 in Oldham or Henry counties and I-65 in Bullitt County.
Two corridors would slice through eastern Jefferson County, but Stocker said those routes run counter to the area plan, which is being finalized before going to the Louisville Metro Planning Commission.
A new road in the area would “kill the creek and knock down hundreds of thousands of trees. So, I guess the question is who is actually pushing or even suggesting that?”
One route appears to run close to Beckley Creek Park, the northernmost link of the Parklands of Floyds Fork. A parks representative attended two meetings of the focus groups, according to the records.
21st Century Parks, the nonprofit group that built and operates the parks, isn’t taking a position on a possible bypass, a spokeswoman said.
A UPS official who attended provided input on how the company's trucks travel existing roads in the study area, as well as how those vehicles might use possible new routes, spokesman Jim Mayer said.
Mayer said it's too early in the study process for UPS to take a position on whether a new bypass ought to be built, but that the company generally favors improvements in transportation infrastructure that have broad benefits.
State legislators approved the $1.8 million study in 2018. It is meant to determine whether there’s a need for a new corridor between I-71 and I-65.
Transportation Cabinet spokeswoman Andrea Clifford acknowledged that some uninvited guests attended the focus group meetings, but the accompanied people who were authorized to attend.
“We probably should have asked them to leave,” she said. “And we’ll correct that going forward.”
Sign-in sheets of meetings held in January and in late May and early June show that the attendees have represented, among others: Louisville's Metropolitan Sewer District; the Kentucky Heritage Council; Sens. McConnell and Rand Paul; U.S. Reps. Yarmuth, Brett Guthrie and Thomas Massie; and the Outlet Shoppes of the Bluegrass in Simpsonville.
Officials with the Kentucky Division of Water, the Kentucky Department of Parks and the Kentucky Division of Forestry attended. Also at the meetings were Louisville Metro Council members Robin Engel and Stuart Benson; a representative for Council member James Peden; and Develop Louisville Director Jeff O'Brien.
Chambers of commerce for Louisville, Oldham County and Spencer County have participated, as have representatives from the Shelby County Industrial & Development Foundation and the Bullitt County Economic Development Authority.