Environmental Review Toolkit
Accelerating Project Delivery

Successes in Stewardship
Monthly Newsletter
October 2003

Preserving a Sense of Place: Kentucky's Paris Pike Project

Construction crew building dry-stone masonry walls
More than three miles of historic dry masonry walls were recreated or built new as part of the improvements made on Paris Pike, a model of community-based planning and context sensitive highway design. (FHWA KY Division image)

Unique Highway Design Sets the Bar for Historic Preservation

Faced with growing safety concerns on one of the nation's most scenic and historically rich roadways, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) is successfully widening two lanes to four by applying context sensitive solutions (CSS). The award-winning Paris Pike project took a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that involved all stakeholders. The result: a highway that fits its physical setting and preserves scenic, historic, and environmental resources, while improving safety and mobility.

This once controversial project presented many challenges, including historical landmarks, world-renowned horse farms, safety and capacity problems, and public opposition to initial designs. Taking a CSS-based approach — that is, considering the entire context in which the project would exist — enabled KYTC to exceed normal project requirements. Paris Pike is now a model of effective community-based planning and context sensitive highway design. Currently nearing completion, the new road preserves the historic character of the area while enabling safe and scenic travel for residents and visitors.

Tips for Developing Context Sensitive Solutions

  • Fit the road to the land. Look at the landscape to determine how best to make a project blend with its physical features and its cultural context.
  • Work with groups of residents who share similar concerns.
  • Incorporate community feedback into the final design.
  • Involve contractors in constructibility reviews to stress design sensitivities outlined in project documents.
  • Use formal agreements to help foster consensus among agencies and other stakeholders.

Protecting Environmental Resources

The CSS-based design process is distinctly different from traditional highway design. For the Paris Pike project, the designers looked at the surrounding landscape of the 12-mile stretch between the City of Lexington and the rural community of Paris. Natural landscape patterns within the project corridor served as a guide for fitting the roadway geometry, grading, landscaping, and materials into the surrounding cultural, historic, scenic, and natural environment. Designers employed a variety of innovative techniques, including:

  • Creating an alignment and cross-section structure that move with and around the hilly terrain instead of through it. The resulting curvilinear alignment and rounded side slopes blend with the natural rolling topography. In addition, following the natural landscape pattern resulted in less cut and fill, which reduced earthwork costs.
  • Preserving large trees and native species in place or replacing removed trees and vegetation with like species.
  • Modifying roadway alignment, median widths, and utility easements to minimize impacts to matriarchal trees.
  • Stripping, stockpiling, and then returning silt loam topsoil, which was critical to the central Kentucky horse farm industry, to its original thickness after grade and drain work was completed.

Gaining Public Acceptance

Contained within a 10,000-acre historic district eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, Paris Pike is highly valued by surrounding communities. In response to initial public opposition to the project, KYTC used a variety of CSS-based techniques to encourage community involvement, foster consensus among stakeholders, incorporate community values and feedback into the final design, and ensure the effective delivery of environmental commitments.

KYTC kept the public informed by using public meetings, property-owner workshops, and monthly newsletters to educate and solicit feedback from community members. 3-D computer models of roadway designs were displayed at meetings and workshops to facilitate understanding of the project. In addition, KYTC introduced electronic polling as a means to measure stakeholder opinions on design issues, and developed exhibits, kiosk-type displays, and a driving-tour brochure to identify and explain interesting local features along the corridor. Observation points have been created along the corridor, and a historic farmhouse has been designated for use as a visitor interpretive center.

Preserving Historic Features

The unique historic character of Paris Pike was preserved and enhanced using techniques such as:

  • Utilizing early and continual consultation with the State Historic Preservation Officer and resource agencies.
  • Working with local counties to establish the Paris Pike Corridor Commission, which reviews and permits land use within 1,000 feet of each side of the corridor right-of-way.
  • Incorporating detours around historic features into the highway alignment.
  • Recreating or building new dry-stone walls. Certification training in dry-stone masonry techniques was provided for construction staff and crews. In addition, wall styles were customized to each property owner's original walls.
  • Using grass shoulders, wooden guardrails, and indigenous stone veneer on headwalls and bridges to integrate the highway into the surrounding landscape.
  • Preparing a "Small Area Plan" for future land use regulations.

Paris Pike is a prime example of successful project development based on CSS. A FHWA Context Sensitive Design pilot, the project has won several national awards, including a 2002 Merit Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects and the 2003 FHWA Environmental Excellence Award for Excellence in Cultural and Historical Resources.

Project Background

Lined with historic rock fences, springhouses, large trees, and picturesque horse farms, Paris Pike is a popular part of any tour of Kentucky's renowned bluegrass region. In the mid-1960s, planning began to address growing traffic and safety concerns along this route. By 1973, a plan calling for a four-lane divided highway with a uniform 40-foot median was developed. Public debate over the proposed project's impact on the historic nature of the corridor, however, led to a civil suit in 1977 and a court injunction halting the project in 1979.

After several more corridor studies and a series of fatal crashes in the mid-1980s, KYTC worked with FHWA, the State Historic Preservation Officer, the Kentucky Department of Natural Resources, the Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation, and other state and local agencies and organizations to develop a memorandum of agreement (MOA). This 1993 MOA outlined a basic vision for the corridor and created an advisory task force. In addition, a new design team experienced in context sensitive highway design was brought on board. As a result, the court injunction was lifted in 1993, and KYTC began construction in 1999. The new four-lane divided highway is nearing completion.

Contact Information

Ruth Rentch
FHWA Office of Project Development
and Environmental Review
400 7th Street SW, Room 3222
Washington, DC 20590
Phone: (202) 366-2034
Fax: (202) 366-7660
Email: Ruth.Rentch@fhwa.dot.gov

Look What's New!

  • National Transit Institute course "Linking Planning and NEPA: Towards Streamlined Decisionmaking." Executive Seminar pilot held July 2003. Technical Course to be piloted in late Summer 2003. For more information, contact Sean Libberton at the Federal Transit Administration at (202) 366-5112 or John Humeston at FHWA at (404) 562-3667.
  • FHWA-sponsored ADR Collaborative Workshops: Improving Transportation Project Development and Environmental Reviews being held in each of the standard Federal regions. For more information, contact Ruth Rentch at (202)-366-2034 or Ruth.Rentch@fhwa.dot.gov.

"Successes in Stewardship" is a Federal Highway Administration newsletter highlighting current environmental streamlining practices from around the country. To subscribe, call (617) 494-6352 or email esnewsletter@volpe.dot.gov.

HEP Home Planning Environment Real Estate

Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000