Construction could begin by late October on 1.5-mile section of U.S. 421 at Cranks


Kim Henson

Work is expected to begin this fall on U.S. 421 at Cranks to eliminate a dangerous curve leading to the Virginia state line. State transportation officials have confirmed that $27 million has been approved to reconstruct 1.5 miles of the road.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

One of the most dangerous sections of roadway in Harlan County could be eliminated by 2024 as state transportation officials have confirmed that $27 million has been approved to reconstruct 1.5 miles of U.S. 421 from the Virginia state line to Cranks, eliminating a treacherous curve that has long been identified as a safety concern.
“Funding for this project is in the current highway plan. Design funding is currently authorized, and construction funding will be authorized this year in time for the start of construction activities,” said Chris Jones, chief district engineer for the District 11 office in Manchester. “The project is currently being completed as a progressive design build project. Progressive design build was chosen as a delivery method by us to get the benefits of having the design-builder introduced to the project at the earliest possible point. This enables the design-builder to use their expertise to influence the design development process and help expedite the overall process. The scope of the current project in the current highway plan is to improve U.S. 421 from mile point 1.5 to the Virginia state line. This will address the curve going up the mountain at Cranks.”
Jones said requests for proposals have been sent to interested consultant/contractor teams for the project.
“Initial interviews have been held for interested parties and one-on-one interviews will begin next week to discuss conceptual ideas with interested consultant/contractor teams. Proposals for the project are due in early April and the project will be awarded at the end of April,” Jones said. “Construction notice to proceed on the project should be around the end of October, however this schedule is tentative depending on various factors.”
The 13-mile U.S. 421 expansion from Grays Knob the Virginia line began in 1999 and stopped three miles short of its completion in 2004. Gov. Andy Beshear promised to complete the remaining three miles of the project when he was campaigning for office in 2019
“It is going to be a priority in my administration, and I’m committed to getting the final three miles of 421 completed in a Beshear administration. I’m committed to Harlan County, and I recognize the importance of good roads to economic development,” Beshear said in a phone interview with this reporter. “For a county that I believe has been ignored by (the previous administration), I want to make sure Harlan County has a seat at the table.”
“Completing this section of highway construction is something Harlan County leadership has advocated and pushed for over the last 20 years and through four different governors since Paul Patton completed the section from Grays Knob to Barn Branch at Cranks. I’m thankful it’s finally getting started back. It’s important for safety, economic, and tourism reasons. I’m grateful to Governor Beshear, Representative Adam Bowling, and Senator (Johnnie) Turner for helping get this project to a design build phase,” said Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley. “Transportation Cabinet District 11 Chief District Engineer Chris Jones presented an incredible plan to address the most dangerous section of the final three miles. I appreciate his ingenuity with this project and am excited to see ground broke soon. Now that this is moving forward, it will help Virginia leaders make the case on their side of the state line to address road needs on in to Pennington Gap. This is truly great for Harlan County.”
Jones said only half of the project has been funded to this point.
“The only project currently listed in the current highway plan for this specific area is on U.S. 421 from mile point 1.5 to the Virginia state line,” he said. “We have asked the interested parties to evaluate the entire 3.3-mile section back to the terminus of the previous widening and make recommendations depending on the current available funding.  We will continue to evaluate projects through our Strategic Highway Investment Formula for Tomorrow (SHIFT) program for the upcoming highway plan in 2024 working with the governor and legislators to determine additional projects.”
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) issued a final Request for Proposals from prospective contractors on Friday. The cabinet expects to award the project in late April and hopes to break ground in October.