I-66 in Kentucky

by Ethan Coleman, 3 October 2021 | Comments

In 1990, residents and business owners in Wichita, Kansas began to envision an east-west interstate highway running through their city. Interstate 70, completed in 1970, had brought considerable economic development to the state, especially among the major cities it connected. By 1991, their plans encompassed a mainline route connecting Washington, D.C. to Fresno, California via areas underserved by the Interstate Highway System. Its proposed name, Interstate 66, would capitalize on the name of the most famous historical highway in the United States, Route 66. The plan was presented to Rep. Dan Glickman and other area politicians, who were able to get I-66 recognized as a high-priority corridor in the 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) (Nitzman, 2020, para. 5). Designated in ISTEA as High Priority Corridor 3 and the I-66 Transamerica Highway, $1 million in funding was allocated for a feasibility study (ISTEA, 1991, p. 2035).

The Proposed Route

The 1995 National Highway System Designation Act identified the cities and regions to be served by the highway. In Virginia, the route would commence in the Hampton Roads area, continuing westward through Lynchburg and Roanoke. In West Virginia, the route would continue through the vicinity of Beckley and Welch along the proposed Coalfields Expressway, and then along proposed I-73 (King Coal Highway) to Williamson. In Kentucky, from east to west, the route would center on the cities of Pikeville, Jenkins, Hazard, London, Somerset, Columbia, Bowling Green, Hopkinsville, Benton, and Paducah. The route would cross briefly through the southernmost part of Illinois, through Missouri, and across southern Kansas (National Highway System Designation Act, 1995, p. 595)

Image source: KYTC I-66 Somerset to London Planning Study, 2000

Kentucky’s official highway maps from 2002 to 2008 highlight the route in pink, designated as the Future I-66 Corridor. From 2004 to 2008, the following inset was featured on the reverse of the map:

Image source: 2008 Kentucky Official Highway Map

As this map illustrates, much of Interstate 66’s mileage through the state already exists as parkways or interstates. However, the map is not up to date – many parkways have since been redesignated. The I-69 parkway to interstate project was completed in 2015, with the Purchase Parkway, Pennyrile Parkway, and part of the Western Kentucky Parkway redesignated as I-69 and I-169. Additionally, the 70-mile Natcher Parkway from Bowling Green to Owensboro was redesignated as I-165 in 2019.

256 miles of I-66’s proposed route through Kentucky is along existing interstates and parkways: 

For 27.5 miles from Reidland to Eddyville, I-66 would run concurrently with I-24. Then, it would run concurrently with I-69 for another 38.3 miles to the interchange near Little Valley. From there, it would travel 38.5 miles along the Western Kentucky Parkway to the interchange with I-165 near Beaver Dam. I-66 would then run concurrently south along I-165 for 41.3 miles to Bowling Green. From there it would run concurrently with I-65 for 22.6 miles before continuing 88.1 miles along the length of the Cumberland Parkway to Somerset.

In total, I-66 would run concurrently with 126.6 miles of existing parkway and 129.7 miles of existing interstate. Together, this represents 256.3 miles, or about 59% of the proposed length of the route across the state. These sections would incur little cost as compared to the proposed new western and eastern corridors. However, upgrading parkways to interstate standards typically involves raising overpasses and bridges, lengthening acceleration/deceleration lanes, and modifying interchanges. Based on the costs of the I-69 parkway to interstate project, the cost to upgrade the required 126.6 miles of parkway for I-66 would likely reach $1 billion or more.

About 180 miles of I-66’s proposed route through Kentucky is along new corridors: 

From the west, approximately 30 miles of new interstate would need to be built, linking Reidland to the Missouri border. Across a new Mississippi River bridge, I-66 would continue west to connect with I-57. A 2005 study estimated that this western segment would cost $895 million to build, including a new Mississippi River bridge and Missouri segment to I-57 (KYTC & MoDOT, 2005, p. 11).

The eastern segment would involve the construction of approximately 150 miles of new interstate connecting Somerset to the West Virginia border. This segment would cross some of the state’s most impoverished areas:

Image source: KYTC I-66 Somerset to London Planning Study, 2000

In 2004, KYTC estimated that the 10-mile Somerset northern bypass would cost $250 million in total. The route would then continue 23 miles from KY-80 east of Somerset to I-75 south of London, at a cost of $1.5 billion (KYTC, 2004, p. 3). Crossing through the Daniel Boone National Forest, the segment would potentially threaten the area’s streams, rivers, and animal habitats. Thus, it has drawn strong opposition from environmentalist groups (Tate & Gordon, 2013). A cost estimate was not provided for the 90-mile segment from London to Pikeville.

For the 30-mile segment from US-23 south of Pikeville to US-52 in West Virginia, the cost was estimated at more than $2 billion due to the rugged terrain. An environmental study showed impacts to be minimal for this section (KYTC, 2004, p. 3).

West Virginia Segment

Left: KYTC Preliminary Best Alignment Analysis Map (Matewan Area Detail), 2001
Right: Map of future I-73 planned alignment. Image source: Nick Nolte

I-66 would cross from Kentucky into West Virginia near Thacker, continuing 4.5 miles to the King Coal Highway, of which a 9.5 mile segment has been completed. In the future, the route is to be designated I-73 and will extend to Bluefield, where it will enter Virginia as I-74.

Left: The end of the 3 mile completed section of the Somerset northern bypass, the only section of I-66 which has been constructed to date in Kentucky. Finished in 2010, residents and media have called it the “road to nowhere”. Image source: Lexington Herald-Leader.

Right: The Christine West Bridge, constructed in 2009 as part of the future I-73 (King Coal Highway) corridor in Bluefield, West Virginia. The bridge has sat unused since then, earning it the name “bridge to nowhere”. Image source: WVNS-TV.

Hal Rogers and the Somerset Northern Bypass

Hal Rogers is an important figure in the history of I-66 in Kentucky. Since his election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1981, he has served on the House Appropriations Committee, and as its chair from 2011 to 2016. In 2003, he secured $13 million in federal funds to remove the tolls on the former Daniel Boone Parkway, which had opened in 1971. The road was renamed the Hal Rogers Parkway in 2003 by former governor Paul E. Patton (Associated Press, 2003).

Rogers has also used his position in Congress to obtain funding for I-66 construction near his Somerset home. In 1998, Congress allocated $15 million to construct a segment of I-66 connecting Somerset with I-75 in London (BESTEA, 1998, p. 176). In 2001, an additional $20 million was allocated for the segment, along with $2.5 million for the Pike County segment (Carlyle, 2001). In 2003, Rogers obtained $4.5 million for I-66 planning in Pulaski and Lauren Counties, in addition to $2 million for the Pike County segment (Carlyle, 2003). However, by 2010, only 3 miles of I-66 – the Somerset northern bypass – had been completed. An additional 2.5 miles of right-of-way between US-27 and KY-39 were purchased, with utilities relocated (Mardis, 2010).

Recent Developments and the Future of I-66 in Kentucky

In early 2021, the Somerset Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA) detailed its vision for completing the Somerset northern bypass within three to five years, as well as redesignating the Cumberland Parkway from Bowling Green to Somerset as an I-65 spur. SPEDA is the driving force behind the $69 million KY-461 interchange project about six miles northeast of Somerset (Harris, 2021).

Construction began in November 2020 and is financed by a $25 million U.S. Department of Transportation BUILD grant, a $26 million state-federal appropriation, $13 million in state funds, and $5 million in local funding (Commonwealth Journal, 2020). Two intersections will be replaced and three miles of KY-461 will be widened to four lanes (USDOT, 2018, p. 37). The project will better connect the Valley Oak industrial area to the Hal Rogers Parkway extension and downtown Somerset. In the future, SPEDA hopes to widen the entire length of KY-461 to provide a better connection to I-75 in Mt. Vernon (Harris, 2021).

Image source: USDOT BUILD Grant Awards, 2018

Federal legislation in 2002 directed Kentucky to place “Future I-66” signs along the length of the Cumberland Parkway. As of 2018, the signs are still posted, and KYTC officials confirmed the project has not been cancelled (Mardis, 2018). A four-lane connection between Somerset and London remains an objective of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, even as its own project (Tate & Gordon, 2013).

March 23, 2005: Gov. Ernie Fletcher and Rep. Hal Rogers attend the unveiling of a "Future I-66 Corridor" sign in Glasgow. Image source: Commonwealth Journal

Video: I-66 Southern Kentucky Corridor History

Three videos about I-66, likely created by KYTC in the early 2000s, were recovered from an archived version of FutureInterstateCorridors.com and joined together.

Annotated Bibliography

Associated Press. (2003, August 10). Politician's name replaces Daniel Boone's on Kentucky road. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/10/national/politicians-name-replaces-daniel-boones-on-kentucky-road.html

This article introduces Daniel Boone and his importance to Kentucky and the Appalachian region as a historical figure. It outlines the process through which the Daniel Boone Parkway was renamed the Hal Rogers Parkway, including the justifications given for the redesignation. It features quotes from residents of southeastern Kentucky regarding their opinions of the name change.

Building Efficient Surface Transportation and Equity Act (BESTEA). (1998). U.S. Government Printing Office. https://www.congress.gov/105/bills/hr2400/BILLS-105hr2400rds.pdf

BESTEA authorized funding for highways, highway safety progams, and transit programs for fiscal years 1998 to 2003. $15 million was appropriated for the construction of the Somerset northern bypass. 

Carlyle, J. (2001, December 8). Transportation spending bill passes both houses of congress. KentuckyRoads.com. Retrieved October 3, 2021, from https://www.kentuckyroads.com/i-66/

This news item lists approriations made for Kentucky transportation projects in the Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2001. The act redefined the I-66 and I-69 corridors and permits the posting of Future I-66 signs along the Cumberland Parkway. $22.5 million was appropriated for I-66 in Kentucky. 

Carlyle, J. (2003, July 29). I-66 and other southern Kentucky projects in committee version of house transportation appropriations bill; I-66 public meeting held in Somerset. KentuckyRoads.com. Retrieved October 3, 2021, from https://www.kentuckyroads.com/i-66/

This news item lists appropriations made for southern Kentucky transportation projects in a draft version of the Transportation, Treasury, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act, 2004. $6.5 million was appropriated for I-66 in Kentucky. 

Commonwealth Journal. (2020, November 7). Preparation getting underway for Ky. 461 interchange improvement project. https://www.somerset-kentucky.com/news/preparation-getting-underway-for-ky-461-interchange-improvement-project/article_5206fd72-2138-11eb-9179-cfec8910a038.html

This article provides general preliminary information about the KY-461 interchange project, including its scope, funding sources, projected impact on traffic flow during construction, and estimated construction start and end dates.

Harris, C. (2021, March 13). Cloverleaf is on-ramp for vast economic transformation. Commonwealth Journal. https://www.somerset-kentucky.com/news/cloverleaf-is-on-ramp-for-vast-economic-transformation/article_0ca7b9b2-8397-11eb-85e9-1f59164e3d8e.html

This article provides an update on the KY-461 interchange project after nearly four months of construction. It outlines SPEDA's broader economic development plan for Pulaski County, which involves the completion of the Somerset northern bypass and the redesignation of the Cumberland Parkway as an I-65 spur. 

Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). (1991). U.S. Government Printing Office. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/STATUTE-105/pdf/STATUTE-105-Pg1914.pdf

ISTEA represented the first major federal legislation on transportation planning in 35 years. It designated 91 high priority highway corridors and five high speed rail corridors for future development. In the act, Interstate 66 was designated the East-West Transamerica Corridor.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC), & Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT). (2005, April). I-66 corridor study, western Kentucky to Missouri, Ballard/McCracken County - item # 1-23.00, executive summary of findings and recommendations. KYTC. https://transportation.ky.gov/Planning/Planning%20Studies%20and%20Reports/I-66%20complete%2004-2005.pdf

This feasibility study identified a recommended corridor for a proposed segment of I-66 linking I-24 near Paducah, Kentucky to I-57 near Charleston, Missouri. It details the process of selecting the recommended corridor among the 22 considered. Appendix 10, comprising one-fifth of the study, contains correspondence with federal resource agencies regarding the project's environmental impact. 

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC). (2004). Kentucky recommended six-year highway plan FY 2005-2010 appendix B: "mega-project" status. https://transportation.ky.gov/Program-Management/Highway%20Plan/2004%20APPENDIX%20B-Mega%20Projects.pdf

This document outlines Kentucky's transportation mega-projects as of 2004, including the Louisville Bridges project, the I-71/I-75 Brent Spence Bridge congestion relief project, I-66, and I-69. Estimated costs are given for each project, totaling almost $9 billion for all four. 

Mardis, B. (2010, November 10). Rogers hasn’t given up on seeing I-66 finished. Commonwealth Journal. https://www.somerset-kentucky.com/news/local_news/rogers-hasn-t-given-up-on-seeing-i-66-finished/article_9d86e57b-f8ff-53ab-b32d-4948cf6ab4ff.html

This article recounts an interview with Hal Rogers regarding the future of I-66. It outlines the status of the Somerset northern bypass, at that time under construction at the western end.

Mardis, B. (2018, November 29). I-66 on the road to nowhere? Rep for Rogers says no evidence project has been cancelled. Commonwealth Journal. https://www.somerset-kentucky.com/news/i-66-on-the-road-to-nowhere-rep-for-rogers-says-no-evidence-project-has/article_6d1d77e6-f366-11e8-9ed2-67d33dab2801.html

This article features statements by representatives of both KYTC and the office of Hal Rogers regarding the status of the I-66 project in the state. It discusses additional planned transportation projects in southeastern Kentucky, including the KY-461 interchange project and plans to build 12 miles of KY-80 to interstate standards between Somerset and the Rockcastle River.

National Highway System Designation Act. (1995). U.S. Government Printing Office. https://www.congress.gov/104/plaws/publ59/PLAW-104publ59.pdf

This act established the National Highway System, a combined network of both the Interstate Highway System and U.S. highways. It further defined high priority corridors designated in ISTEA, repealed the federal speed limit, and created a State Infrastructure Bank pilot program. 

Nitzman, A. (2020, December 11). Interstate 66. Interstate-Guide.com. Retrieved October 2, 2021, from https://www.interstate-guide.com/i-066/

This website contains information about the current segment of I-66 in Washington D.C. and northern Virginia as well as the history of the proposed I-66 Transamerica Highway.

Tate, C., & Gordon, G. (2013, February 2). After millions of dollars, I-66 and I-69 are Kentucky's interstates to nowhere. Lexington Herald-Leader. Retrieved October 3, 2021, from https://www.kentucky.com/news/politics-government/article44401020.html

This article argues in opposition of I-66 and I-69 on the basis that the funds would be better spent on replacing and repairing existing infrastructure. It outlines the funding situation for these projects in neighboring states.  

U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). (2018). BUILD grants 2018 awards. https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/policy-initiatives/327856/build-2018-fact-sheets.pdf

This document lists the recipients of USDOT BUILD grants for 2018. $1.5 billion in total funding was awarded to 91 infrastructure projects, including highways, railroads, and public transit. The majority of grants were to rural projects.