State postpones U.S. 31W median consolidation

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Officials will study improvements after impact of connector roads are known

By Marty Finley

An initiative to consolidate local median openings has been shelved amid opposition from Elizabethtown and Radcliff.

The Transportation Cabinet delayed the U.S. 31W Operational Improvement Project until the completion of Patriot Parkway, a new connector road between Elizabethtown and Radcliff, and the Bullion Boulevard connector. Patty Dunaway, chief engineer for the cabinet’s District 4 office in Elizabethtown, said the state will assess the effort’s impact on traffic patterns in the meantime.

Chris Jessie, public information officer for the District 4 office, said a lot of decisions are “still up in the air,” but the order to halt the $5 million project was made by Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock and relayed to Dunaway this week.

After working for roughly a year to gain an audience, Radcliff Mayor J.J. Duvall met with Hancock and Dunaway this week in Frankfort, where he raised concerns about the plan. He has described the layout as “appalling” because he believes the state has not fully weighed the input of property owners.

Duvall suggested the state consider deceleration center lanes, which he said are effective on Dixie Boulevard north of the Wilson Road overpass, as well as on Lincoln Trail Boulevard, without congestion or a high number of crashes.

“We’re not saying there aren’t safety issues on Dixie,” he said.

While some suggestions may prove practical, Jessie said others may not from an engineering perspective.

“We’ll try to accommodate them as best we can,” he said.

Asked if the state would scrap its original design, Jessie said the template will be kept and adjusted as needed.

The project called for closure of some median openings alongside U-turns at intersections and median openings. This would have eliminated direct left turns and replaced them with U-turns between the U.S. 31W Bypass in Elizabethtown up to at least the Wilson Road overpass in Radcliff. Instead of periodic crossovers, a U-turn lane would be placed roughly every 1,200 feet, according to officials.

District 4 hoped to secure the roughly $5 million for construction in time for a 2015 start. Moore said the project should reduce crashes, resulting in fewer traffic hazards between vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles, and less diversion of traffic into neighborhoods. The plan also would allow higher speeds with better traffic flow, he said.

Those who opposed the measure said it would restrict emergency access, impede motorists and harm businesses because customers would have to drive past a business and make a U-turn. Emergency vehicles, such as large fire trucks, would have trouble navigating U-turn configurations, Duvall said.

Duvall said the decision is too important to make lightly and will impact residents for decades.

“We feel the secretary made the right decision,” to delay he said.

Elizabethtown Mayor Tim Walker said deceleration lanes should be considered and Patriot Parkway, as well as the Towne Drive extension to Veterans Way, should be given time to alleviate traffic flow on U.S. 31W.

“We should always put safety first and we do have a lot of accidents out there,” he said. “But there are some things in the plan I’m concerned about and don’t agree with.”

One of the largest was an initiative to remove a traffic light at Starlite Center, which would have limited travelers to a right turn into and out of the shopping plaza.

When Walker asked the state where the center’s full access would be placed, he said he was told the city would have to accommodate the businesses with another option.

He also opposed removing median openings that would cut off access to businesses.

State Sen. Dennis Parrett commended the cabinet for its work but approved of the delay because the impact of the new roadways is not yet known and may change what improvements are needed. Parrett said the connector roads may prove to be a safe and effective moderation tool for traffic.

“We can live with what’s left,” he said.

Like Duvall, Parrett said he not did want to see business growth stunted by the effort. Dunaway and Moore have said the state found no instances where a business has been harmed by this type of median format, looking at similar designs in cities such as Somerset and Lexington.

Hopefully, Duvall said, communication will remain open between the cabinet and local officials so their suggestions will be considered when the project is reconsidered.

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

Metropolitan Planning Organization, a policymaking organization made up of local officials that study transportation needs, will have a meeting of its policy committee from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. today at the Lincoln Trail Area Development District on College Street Road in Elizabethtown.

The MPO evaluates measures like the median consolidation plan, which could be an item of discussion at today's meeting.