How NKY’s judge/executives are working together to ‘make the community better’

Kenton Hornbeck
Kenton Hornbeck
Kenton is a reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected]

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Northern Kentucky has increasingly shown its strength as a vital economic, transportation and healthcare organ within the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

At Tuesday morning’s NKY Chamber of Commerce Eggs ‘N Issues, the judge/executives of Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties spoke to a crowd of Northern Kentucky business leaders to detail the region’s successes.

In Kentucky, the judge/executive acts as the chief executive for the county government, presiding over the county’s fiscal court. Boone, Kenton and Campbell are three of the 10 largest counties in the state by population, making their judge/executives some of the most influential politicians in the region.

Gary Moore in Boone, Kris Knochelmann in Kenton and Steve Pendery in Campbell are all tasked with the unique decision-making responsibilities in Kentucky’s three northernmost counties.


Moore thanked District 60 Rep. Sal Santoro for his contributions to the House Transportation Subcommittee, and said Santoro played a large role in laying the groundwork for many of the current infrastructure initiatives either completed or underway within Boone County.

“When you talk to people from around the Commonwealth, and you mention Sal Santoro’s name, they’re gonna say ‘Oh, we were doing this project over here’ or ‘This thing is happening’ because of him,” Moore said. “Tell him thank you. He did deliver for us, but he delivered for the entire Commonwealth.”

Moore touted the Pleasant Valley Road widening project, which was initiated to implement significant safety improvements that support changing travel patterns and growing residential traffic between the Union, Florence and Burlington areas.

The Mt. Zion Road interchange and Richwood Road interchanges continue to progress and are projected to be finished by September 2023. Both projects were initiated to improve safety, reduce travel delays and provide better connections to a growing number of businesses.

The Graves Road interchange project is complete, and features a double diamond crossover, which supports safer traffic movements by eliminating left turns made against oncoming traffic.

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“It’s working effectively and efficiently,” Moore said. “All four corridors in the Graves Road area have active economic development projects that are getting ready to explode in a planned and organized way.”

Moore is now shooting for a project to build a central parkway that runs through the middle of Boone County.

“We have planned a central parkway that goes right down the middle of the county,” Moore said. “It’ll follow parallel to Camp Ernst Road to get down to Hathaway Road, and go all the way to Verona.”

In Campbell County, Pendery said his focus lies on the infrastructure surrounding the $1 billion Ovation project in Newport, which is currently under construction. He mentioned that the new 4th Street Bridge project crossing from Newport into Covington over the Licking River will play a pivotal role in building up the infrastructure surrounding Ovation.

“There are a lot of things that need to be done in terms of sanitation, water and transportation,” Pendery said. “We’re going to try to spend money on water lines in the general vicinity, due to the fact that you don’t want to build a $1 billion project on top of inadequately sized and aging infrastructure.”

When asked about the potential to repair the stretch of Route 8 between Dayton and Fort Thomas, Pendery said it wouldn’t be in the state’s best interest due to the high price tag and uneasy soil conditions. Pendery noted it could cost as much as $80 million to repair the closed stretch of Route 8.

“We have the glaciers to thank for a lot of the really unhappy soil conditions down there,” Pendery said. “The money will be better spent elsewhere in Campbell County.”

For Kenton County, Knochelmann is focused on the Mt. Zion Road/KY 536 project, which will improve just under two miles of the KY 536 corridor between U.S. 25 in Boone County and KY 1303, extending much-needed capacity and safety improvements into the rural communities of Kenton County.

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“536 (Mt. Zion Road) ties all three counties together,” Knochelmann said. “That’s an east-west corridor for both residential and commercial development.”

Brent Spence Bridge

Regarding the Brent Spence Corridor Project, the first shovel is projected to hit the ground in 2023.

The scope of impact for the megaproject isn’t limited to just the borders of the Greater Cincinnati area, but rather, it affects the entirety of the United States, Moore said. Even though the project will reside in Kenton, there are downstream effects that will impact Boone and Campbell as well.

“It’s not a county project,” Moore said. “It’s not even a state project. It’s a project of national significance.”

Moore touted the bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Act as the force that helped cement the future of the project.

“The federal infrastructure bill is really what gave that the shotput over the line,” Moore said. “We’re still waiting any day for the federal grant announcement, but we all are told that that is happening.”

Knochelmann noted that while the upcoming construction could be frustrating to Northern Kentucky residents, the long-term benefits will outweigh the short-term headaches.

“I’m hoping nobody complains and says things like the ‘construction will be horrible, it’ll lock things up,'” Knochelmann said. “With progress comes some pain. Let’s all deal with it. Once it starts, let’s rock and roll and have the darn thing done and funded.”

Commercial Development

Knochelmann discussed a past study that Kenton County funded, which concluded that the county lacked the public infrastructure available for certain sites that could be used to develop manufacturing operations.

“We’ve had users come and say that ‘We’ll come to your community. We’ll put hundreds of jobs in it. We’ll have large capital investment, lots of high paying jobs,'” Knochelmann said. “‘But by the way, you don’t have a site ready. You don’t have it with roads, you don’t have water, you don’t have a sewer. We’ll see you next time.'”

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With some help from Frankfort, Knochelmann said Kenton County now has the funding and availability to upgrade site infrastructure in order to make them more appealing for companies.

In Boone County, Moore spoke on some of the recent backlash the county has faced for it’s rapid commercial development.

Moore said Boone County hasn’t incentivized “big box distribution centers” in over four years, but is available to work with logistics and e-commerce companies looking to relocate into Boone County due to its favorable environment for both industries.

“Economic development projects make the community better, not worse,” Moore said.

Many Campbell Countians work at companies in Boone and Kenton, and Pendery said the positive economic growth of both trickles over to benefit Campbell economically.

Pendery said the three counties working together in conjunction to further develop Northern Kentucky as a whole is a good thing.

“We’re working together and spending our money wisely for a community of 400,000 people and not for any one county,” Pendery said.

High-speed fiber internet instillation

Kenton, Campbell and Boone County partnered with Cincinnati Bell, now Altafiber, to establish a high-speed fiber-to-the-premise broadband network within the region. This would give more Northern Kentuckians access to reliable high-speed internet.

Boone County projected to have the project finished by March 2023, but Moore said the project was ahead of schedule.

“We’re over 70% complete with the project,” Moore said.

Pendery said the project was progressing efficiently, and the installation efforts within Campbell County are ahead of schedule.

“Altafiber is on track to beat the estimates in all three counties,” Pendery said.

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