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The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has drafted an access management plan for U.S. 31W that will restrict median access on a 10-mile stretch connecting Elizabethtown and Radcliff.
State highway officials have patterned the estimated $6 million project after similar road plans across the country and believe the changes will reduce the number of crashes on the heavily trafficked corridor.
John Moore, branch manager of project development for District 4 Highway Office in Elizabethtown, unveiled the plan Monday before Elizabethtown City Council. It received a lukewarm reception.
Several council members questioned the design and feared it may cause more crashes while limiting access to local businesses.
Moore said the state wants to take an “all or nothing” approach to the design and make the changes uniform throughout the affected area by filling in medians and creating a better traffic rhythm. Moore said the state is at least two years away from construction.
The work will start at the U.S. 31W Bypass in Elizabethtown and travel north to the Wilson Road overpass near Elm Road in Radcliff, he said.
As part of the approach, Moore said the state will try to space median breaks at least 1,200 feet apart with traffic signals ideally spaced 2,400 feet apart.
Moore said the roadway will not adhere to these measurements in all areas, particularly concerning signal spacing. In both Elizabethtown and Radcliff, Moore said, some signals are closer to 1,200 feet apart, which is manageable if not ideal. However, the state has identified areas where the spacing is far too minimal and is adding to congestion, Moore said, such as the signal at the Starlite Center in Elizabethtown.
Moore said the state plans to remove the signal at that intersection and another signal at Spring Street in Radcliff.
Some council members scoffed at the notion of limiting access at the Starlite Center and said it could heavily affect businesses if motorists suddenly lose an access point. Councilman Marty Fulkerson said the change could be viewed as a slap in the face to businesses that have invested thousands of dollars to anchor in Elizabethtown.
“They want that access (flexibility),” he said. “Now we’re limiting it.”
Councilwoman Edna Berger, too, said she worried about the toll the plan could take on businesses that will lose a direct access point off Dixie across from Towne Mall.
“That’s a hell of a thing to do to businesses,” Berger said.
City Engineer Scott Reynolds said Elizabethtown will become involved in certain aspects of the project to make infrastructure improvements and assist businesses with access. Reynolds said he expects to bring recommendations to the council.
The plan also would create a number of locations where motorists could make legal U-turns to reach their destination, but Moore stressed the majority of the locations would be signalized U-turns. One exception, he said, would be the
Freeman Lake Park entrance at Blue Heron Way, which would have a median break but no traffic signal.
Council members said they fear the U-turns could lead to an increase rather than a reduction in wrecks.
On Tuesday, Moore said he believes the main challenge is educating local motorists on how to properly use U-turns and medians once the changes are implemented. The new plan also should lessen the force of wrecks, reducing the number of crossover T-bone crashes, he added.
The project itself was born out of a multi-year study pursued through discussions by the Metropolitan Planning Organization, Planning Director Ed Poppe said. The study showed 75 percent of respondents believed the increase in traffic on U.S. 31W has made it harder for customers to reach their businesses while a large number of responders indicated safety was a concern, Poppe added.
Fulkerson said the information gathered will be roughly a decade old once the project is completed and does not take into account changes in the county since the Fort Knox base realignment or the potential impacts the Elizabethtown to Radcliff Connector will make on U.S. 31W traffic flow.
The E2RC will pull thousands of cars away from Dixie, Moore responded, but U.S. 31W will remain the primary corridor through Hardin County.
Poppe tried to soothe concerns Monday evening, telling the council the approach proposed by the state has been successfully undertaken in communities all over the United States, including Somerset. Numerous studies, he added, have shown the restriction of median access improves traffic flow and reduces crashes without crippling businesses.
Poppe said some pains will be felt, but it is a better plan than the current layout, which forces motorists to focus on multiple directions of traffic at once.
“We have to do something out there,” he said.
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