BUCHANAN COUNTY, Va. (WYMT) - Update 2/25/14:
Elk Creek in Buchanan County is isolated from the rest of Virginia.
The road only connects to Kentucky, and people there must pass through a flood-prone tunnel that occasionally leaves them completely cut off.
Pike and Buchanan County officials broke ground Monday on a project they say will remedy a problem that has existed since Kentucky became a state in 1792.
"They lined the border, and they left 88 families in the Commonwealth of Virginia that had an only exit the Commonwealth of Kentucky," said Pike County Judge Executive Wayne T. Rutherford.
The only way in our out of Elk Creek is through a culvert that can become impassible in hard rains.
"When it rains pretty hard the culvert gets up and we can't get through it, can't get out," said John Rife, who lives in Elk Creek.
"They couldn't get out to get medicine when the water was up, they couldn't get out to go to school," said Rutherford.
The problem prompted the Virginia legislature to act, and soon people will have a safe railroad crossing.
Norfolk Southern recently gave the official green light on the project, which has community members pleased.
"It's been going on for six years or so trying to get it done, so I'm glad glad they're finally getting ready to get started on the construction of it," Rife said.
Once the project is complete, officials say the people of Elk Creek will be more connected, without giving up the land they have called home for generations.
Rutherford says the project should be complete in two or three months.
Original Story 9/8/13:
A road project that officials say will create better access for more than 80 people living on the Kentucky/Virginia border has received approval from the railroad company, Norfolk Southern Corporation, to move forward.
Pike County officials say access to the Elk Creek community has been a problem since Kentucky became a state. The community runs along an old strip mine road with the majority of homes being on the Virginia side but the only access point is in Kentucky where Upper Elk Creek Rd. meets KY-194.
Pike County Judge Executive Wayne T. Rutherford says, "When Kentucky became a state and Pike County became a county, they left these people isolated in a hollow that only comes out in Pike County. Then the railroad company came through in the early 1900s and built a culvert for the cars to get through."
Folks living in the area say when the creek rises, it fills the tunnel under that bridge...blocking the only way in or out of their community.
John Rife says,"If we are up here and we have a flood or something we can't get out, we are just dead. We can't get out of here."
A problem that brings fear to the community every time it rains. "A couple of inches of rain will pretty much fix that so you can't get through it. It happens pretty fast and pretty often," explains Rife.
Now, thanks to teamwork across state lines officials are paving the way for better access for Rife and his neighbors.
Judge Rutherford says, "Think about this...the legislature in the Commonwealth of Virginia passes an act to spend money in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. That is something unheard of and the National Association of Counties gave us an award for that."
Officials say the persistence and teamwork for 18-months paid off as they have now received approval to move forward with the Elk Creek Tunnel Bypass Project.
"I am glad and I am sure everybody is going to be glad it is going to move forward," says Rife.
Officials say construction will begin once the railroad company takes care of a few things in preparation for the project.