SOMERSET, Ky. — Travelers through the Ky. 80-461 intersection in eastern Pulaski County are seeing remarkable progress on a $70 million road project that will bring significant economic development and traffic relief to the area.
Additionally, new industrial construction in this area is exploding, with AppHarvest’s 30-acre indoor ag-tech farm nearly under-roof and a new commerce park approaching its second phase of development.
All of this progress can be contributed to historic collaboration between local, state and federal government entities and officials, said Chris Girdler, president and CEO of the Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA).
The project — which includes installing a cloverleaf interchange at the intersection of Ky. 80 and 461, expanding Ky. 461 to four lanes from the intersection to Buck Creek, and building new entryways at Valley Oak Commerce Complex — is funded in part by a $25 million Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) federal transportation grant. The project also benefits from a $26.2 million state-federal apportionment, $12.8 million in state funds, a $5 million local match and other right-of-way donations.
Pulaski County Fiscal Court initially borrowed the $5 million local match, intending to share responsibility for the bond payments with the City of Somerset, SPEDA, and industries in Valley Oak in the form of a utility surcharge. But SPEDA and current administrations did not want to put that burden on existing businesses, Girdler said. To prevent this from happening, SPEDA voluntarily offered to shoulder the cost of the project for the first year — a $360,000 commitment — made possible by proper fiscal management and oversight. After a thorough review of all records, expenses and assets inherited from its predecessor organization, SPEDA has been able to save more than $300,000 annually since it was formed in 2019.
SPEDA will continue to shoulder the cost of the match until the bond is paid, taking a reduction in its annual budget to ensure existing companies are not financially affected, Girdler said.
AppHarvest is one of those companies, a publicly traded Certified B Corp that last summer announced its intention to build a 30-acre sustainable indoor farm off of Ky. 461 that will grow berries. AppHarvest will bring hundreds of jobs to Pulaski County and directly benefit from the highway expansion project. The greenhouse is expected to be fully operational by late 2022, Girdler said.
AppHarvest’s facility is part of a larger economic development expansion effort in the Valley Oak area that includes SPEDA Commerce Park, a 142-acre development that will offer certified build-ready sites to industrial prospects. The park’s first tenant, the Kentucky National Guard, announced in August its intentions to build a new regional readiness center and field maintenance shop there on 18 acres.
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