No governor has contributed more to Kentucky’s transportation program than Bert T. Combs. He connected Eastern Kentucky with the rest of the state in 1963 by constructing the Mountain Parkway and its extensions. He also built the West Kentucky Parkway and started work on the Bluegrass Parkway. Great strides were made in the state’s airport program during the Combs Administration.
Gov. Combs expanded the state’s tourism potential by adding six new resort parks. He designated Lt. Gov. Wilson W. Wyatt head of the state’s economic development efforts and an aggressive program was started to recruit business and industry.
An essential key to improving government services is, of course, the adequacy of state revenues. Gov. Combs provided the leadership to restore a three-percent sales and use tax that had been previously repealed. The usage tax on vehicles would go to the Road Fund (and, in terms of highways, is one of the important factors over the past 40 years that has helped Kentucky keep pace with more affluent states).
Gov. Combs used the new General Fund revenue to close one-room schools, add classrooms and raise teachers’ salaries. He also built five community colleges, five new vocational schools and increased spending at the state’s universities.
Born in Clay County, Gov. Combs practiced law in Manchester and Prestonsburg. A captain in World War II, he helped prepare evidence against Japanese war criminals.
Gov. Combs served on the Kentucky Court of Appeals from 1951 to 1955; was governor of Kentucky from 1959 to 1963; was Federal Court of Appeals judge from 1967 to 1970; and was a senior partner in Wyatt, Tarrant, and Combs.
Gov. Combs made his retirement home in Powell County on Cane Creek. Sadly he lost his life on December 4, 1991, while trying to cross a flooded road that led to his home. His widow, Sara, is a judge on the Kentucky Court of Appeals and still resides in the log house that the couple loved so much.