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Duvall: State plans could hurt business along U.S. 31W

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Debate centers on proposal to consolidate median openings on Dixie

By Marty Finley

Radcliff Mayor J.J. Duvall points to locally owned stores as he drives on North Dixie Boulevard, arguing a state safety plan designed to consolidate median barriers on U.S. 31W could handicap the business climate.

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The proposal calls for construction of median openings with left turn lanes and U-turns at intersections, eliminating direct left turns and replacing them with right turns followed by U-turns. The turnarounds would be placed from the U.S. 31W Bypass in Elizabethtown to the Wilson Road overpass in Radcliff. As part of the changes, the state intends to modify its signal timing at certain intersections.

The number of medians through the stretch is undetermined. John Moore, branch manager for project development for the Kentucky Transportation’s District 4 office in Elizabethtown, said the openings likely would be placed every 1,200 feet.

Duvall said the model is flawed because it will restrict access and perpetuate the notion Radcliff is a pass-through city as motorists grow too aggravated with the new design to shop at harder-to-reach businesses.

To illustrate his concerns Thursday, Duvall drove past Stithton Baptist Church near Wal-Mart. A raised median barrier has been proposed there, which would restrict churchgoers or patrons of businesses from turning left on Dixie, he said.

Duvall said he is “appalled”the state may approve a major project based on recommendations from the cabinet’s Elizabethtown office without input from local businesses, residents and city government. Most of those making the decisions, he said, do not live in the county or operate local businesses.

“They’re making the decision without feeling the impacts,”he said.

Driving north of the Wilson Road overpass, Duvall eased into the deceleration lane in the center of the highway, which allows a motorist to make a left turn without bogging down traffic.

Similar deceleration lanes are used on Lincoln Trail Boulevard. Duvall believes that system is more successful than the ideas proposed and would create easy access to business. Both areas have few collisions, he said.

“If they open up 31W for business use, there’s no issue,”he said.

Radcliff is ready to challenge the proposal with the assistance of local legislators who he said also recognize negative implications.

A final design for the roughly $5 million project should be finished by spring but the state would have to allocate money in its next budget for construction to start by 2015, Moore said.

State officials say the project should improve safety by reducing crashes; result in fewer traffic hazards between vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles; lead to less diversion of traffic into neighborhoods to avoid congestion; and create smoother and higher travel speeds with better traffic flow.

The plan will not reduce access for motorists but modify the access available, requiring drivers to adjust their routines, Moore said. He has found no instance in which similar traffic layouts drastically slashed customer traffic or led to the failure of businesses in other cities.

Raised medians, U-turns and other safety measures reduced crashes and improved economic benefits on New Circle Road in Lexington, Hurstbourne Lane in Louisville and U.S. 27 in Somerset, he said.

Radcliff employees traveled to Somerset and Duvall said the design used there does not function the same as the one proposed in Elizabethtown and Radcliff.

In addition to consumer issues, Duvall said the city’s fire trucks cannot manage the radius on the U-turns, hampering emergency access.

Mooresaid the state is taking Radcliff’s concerns under consideration as it finishes design.

“We’re still working on that one,”he said.

Elizabethtown Mayor Tim Walker worries the project may harm existing businesses in his city.

“No one likes change,”he said.

The need for safety improvements on Dixie is obvious, Walker said, declaring his chief priority as most of the city’s crashes occur north of the bypass in the target area.

But another priority is protection of local businesses, he said.

Walkeranticipates the need for the city to make improvements of its own along the corridor, a financial burden he will present to the state when needed.

A contentious point with Elizabethtown officials is the state’s desire to remove a traffic light at Starlite Center. Moore said the light should be removed to unclog congestion and create better flow.

“It really boxes us in,”he said.

The signal does not meet the state’s spacing regulations of 2,500 feet, Moore said.

Walkersaid the light’s removal will limit access and could hurt business while forcing drivers to find a new access route.

Development of the shopping center evolved around the signal and removing it could prove detrimental, he said.

“How do you take something away once it’s been (established)?”Walkersaid.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com