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News Item #1146
[US 119]
US 119 Pine Mountain Celebration Planned for April 22
Posted: 4-Apr-2005 1:23AM CDT

[US 119 Pine Mountain]

Local, state, and federal officials will gather in Letcher County on April 22 to celebrate improvements to US 119s crossing of Pine Mountain. The improvements include the widening of shoulders and the addition of passing lanes on the climb up the mountain.

The days events will include exhibits at the Pine Mountain Grill and a 11:00am ceremony at the new overlook on US 119.

The following text is from a Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 12 press release:

[View from new US 119 Pine Mountain Overlook]
[View from new US 119 Pine Mountain Overlook]
[US 119 Pine Mountain]
[US 119 Pine Mountain]
[The Black Side Dace: Federally protected fish species]
[The Black Side Dace: Federally protected fish species]
Before the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet completed a two-year project of spot improvements to the 7.7-mile stretch of this Kentucky Scenic Byway, the scenery was all but forgotten by drivers as they gripped their steering wheels, eyes glued to the narrow, winding roadway, afraid to look off into the beautiful distance.
Narrow driving lanes, switchbacks, steep grades, and sheer drops from virtually non-existent shoulders made crossing Pine Mountain a risky experience. Today's traffic includes large school buses, coal trucks, tractor-trailers, RVs, and a whole host of large passenger vehicles. The sheer size of modern vehicles was unimagined in the 1920s when US 119 was built atop twisted logging trails that rose more than 1,700 feet before winding down the other side of the mountain.
Fast forward. On Friday, April 22, the people of Letcher and Harlan counties will join state and federal officials to Celebrate Pine Mountain!
The day's activities will begin with multi-media presentations and exhibits in the Banquet Room of the Pine Mountain Grill. Exhibitors include the following: Southeast Community & Technical College, PRIDE, Department of Fish & Wildlife, Kentucky Coal Mining Museum from Benham, Kentucky Heritage Council, the "Other Side of the Mountain" Gang, UNITE, Kentucky State Nature Preserves, Kentucky Geological Society, Department of Parks, Letcher County Tourism, and Highway District 12.
At 11 a.m. a ceremony is scheduled at the new overlook. Dock Frazier and Clyde Stanley will start the festivities with selections from their collaboration with Jenny Galloway Browning on the musical Stonega Run, which is about the crossing of Pine Mountain by the original white settlers.
Following canon fire by the Ben Caudill Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans, the VFW Honor Guard will post colors. Musicians from all the high school bands in Letcher County will present the Star Spangled Banner and My Old Kentucky Home.
Winners of poster and essay contests from Arlie Boggs Elementary and Whitesburg High School will be introduced. Trees will be planted in honor of the community members of the task force. Governor Ernie Fletcher will address the audience, as will United States Congressman Hal Rogers.
Following the ceremony, traffic will be stopped on top of the mountain once again while a ribbon is stretched across the road and the dignitaries join the task force members in cutting the ribbon.
Shuttle service will be provided by LKLP from the parking lot at the Pine Mountain Grill up to the ceremony and back. "If the weather is dry all week, there will be a good amount of parking available on top of the hill at the new entrance to Little Shepherd Trail," said Danl Hall, Chief District Engineer for Highway District 12. "But just in case we run out of space on top, Don Childers has been kind enough to allow us to shuttle people from the Grill parking lot and LKLP has been kind enough to provide the shuttle service."
Hall said the generosity and help of the community is not surprising. "The people of Letcher County made this project happen. When you set up a meeting in Letcher County, people actually show up and get involved. It's not like that everywhere. This is Letcher County's celebration and, to a large extent, Harlan County's too. Everyone we've asked has agreed to participate: from Superintendent Anna Craft to Judge/Executive Carroll Smith to Sheriff Danny Webb to the new principal and band director for Letcher County Central." Hall said the community participation in the celebration also reflects how glad people are that driving over Pine Mountain is now a safe, enjoyable experience.
"The importance of these road improvements cannot be overstated," said Danl L. Hall, Chief District Engineer, Highway District 12. "The enhancements, such as several paved pull-offs, a new entrance to Little Shepherd Trail, and the large overlook on top of the mountain enable people to truly enjoy the experience of crossing Pine Mountain. But we are celebrating much more than these things on April 22."
For one thing, Hall explains, the road improvements came about as a direct result of public demand. "People had worked for decades to get this roadway improved. Literally decades. Gayle Lawson, who lives in Harlan, can remember meetings with state and federal officials in the 1960s about this road. She still has her notes of those meetings!"
Public frustration turned to outrage in the fall of 2000 when 51-year-old Leonard Collins of Whitesburg was killed when the school bus he was driving collided with a tractor-trailer.
"What followed was a meeting where there was little attempt to contain the anger, hostility, and frustration of the people. It took a few months and a lot of hard work before even the least skeptical citizens started to believe that maybe they could work with us to make crossing Pine Mountain a safe experience. It took three years for the most cynical; they had to see it to believe it."
The process of public involvement in this project was extensive. The Pine Mountain Task Force, made up of more community leaders and lay people than elected officials and engineers, studied the choices and made the decisions about which specific areas of the road would be improved. The Task Force requested -- and got -- a ban on all vehicles over 30 feet long, unheard of on a federal highway. The Task Force asked for -- and got -- approval from the Appalachian Regional Commission to realign US 119 so that federal money can be used to build a tunnel through the mountain, the group's preferred long-term solution.
"If these local people had not come forward in good faith to work with us, I'm certain US 119 over Pine Mountain would still be the way it was four years ago," Hall said. "It was the people who drove this project: Gayle Lawson, Vernon Maggard, Jim Webb, Barbara Church, Frank Robinette, Terenia Bledsoe, Major Harold Sparks, Bill Collier, Mike Caudill, Ronnie Maggard, Dr. Bruce Ayers, and others. They are the reason we can come together for a celebration. This project is a model of public involvement."
The project is also a model of environmental stewardship and an outstanding example of context-sensitive design. "This was not a typical project at all," Hall said. "We had a general design, but the contractor was responsible for making decisions during construction according to what was needed as construction progressed. In other words, if excavation uncovered a hidden water source, the design could be altered to make sure the water source was not contaminated. If excess excavation material could not be used as fill -- to build the overlook, for example -- it had to be removed. There were no hollow fills allowed because preserving the integrity and beauty of the environment was right up there as a priority with making the road more safe."
The result is better than the task force members even dreamed. "It's a delight to drive Pine Mountain now. It's better than any of us ever thought it would be. The state listened and did what we wanted done. No, they did more than what we wanted and expected. It's really wonderful now," said Vernon Maggard, who admits that he was probably the most skeptical of the group. "I didn't believe a word they said. But I hung in there, waiting for them to prove it to me. And they did."
Chief Hall hopes that everyone in the region, not just Letcher and Harlan counties, will come on Friday, April 22, to help the Transportation Cabinet officials and the task force members celebrate. "This project has made Letcher County a destination. The celebration is about what can happen now as much as it is about what has already been done."
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Updated: 4-Apr-2005 1:23AM CDT

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