U.S. 31W overhaul starts Sunday

Motorists have been alerted this week of upcoming closures of lanes on U.S. 31W in Elizabethtown. The work begins Sunday night in a project that will take nearly two years to complete. The first of the three phases extends from Ring Road to Wilson Road.

The first and longest phase of a three-part series of road reconstruction that is scheduled to take nearly two years to complete begins Sunday night along U.S. 31W in Elizabethtown.

The $13.54 million project will extend from Ring Road to Wilson Road and include road resurfacing and the construction of several Reduced Conflict U-Turns, similar to J-Turns, that will cover 3.1 miles when completed from St. John Road to South Wilson Road.

“The design is widely implemented in modern road configurations and is specifically suited to address issues where high traffic volumes are combined with a high density of intersections and entrances along a divided highway,” according to a Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 4 news release. “RCUT installations are featured throughout the U.S. 31W project.”

Transportation District 4 spokesman Chris Jessie said officials have been in contact since late last summer with business owners throughout the impacted area briefing them on the coming changes and potential impact on traffic.

The Ring Road to South Wilson Road stretch covers 1.3 miles. Jessie said getting that area completed before the holiday shopping season was a priority “as this will be the most difficult to manage traffic through congestion,” according to a news release.

The area will be impacted by not only lane closures, but inconsistent timing of traffic lights with project construction affecting lanes and turning lane availability. Motorists are encouraged to be aware through the corridor of signal timing changes and to expect traffic delays.

“While traffic engineers will attempt to keep signals in the best possible synchronization for flow, it is not possible to keep them in sync with varying lane configurations,” according to the news release.

“There is no perfect scenario [for the lights],” Jessie said, given the number of sets of lights in all directions during that stretch of roadway.

Access to entrances along the project will be maintained, although short duration blockages may occur with the construction process, Jessie added.

Starting at 9 p.m. Sunday, traffic will be reduced to two lanes in each direction around the clock and the project contractor – Louisville Paving Co. LLC – is allowed to further reduce traffic to one lane in each direction from 9 p.m. through 6 a.m. An additional closure window to one lane from 9 p.m. until noon also can be used as crews work around the clock.

“We have worked with local government officials and local business – in a one-on-one level in many cases – because we want to make sure, and communicate upfront, about the project and its impacts,” District 4 Engineer and Project Team Leader Kevin Blain said. “We will continue to answer questions and communicate with those affected throughout construction.”

Some 31W patchwork in several areas was completed in the fall to prepare for winter conditions, although that work was not part of the $13.54 million contract.

The highway was built as a concrete surface in 1941 as a two-lane road and expanded to four lanes in 1959.

“Additional lanes were constructed with a concrete surface, while the two original lanes were overlaid with asphalt,” according to a news release. “Over time, additional upgrades have been made, evolving to the current configuration. In simple terms, these upgrades were implemented as a trade-off between immediate needs and long-term maintenance.”

KYTC officials said the highly traveled U.S. 31W corridor “presents a unique set of maintenance challenges.”

“Over decades, the answer has been to smooth the surface by doing shallow asphalt rehab projects,” according to the release. “Afterwards, it only takes a seasonal change or two for the underlying issues to re-emerge as ‘road bumps.’ This project provides a longer-term solution in providing a higher quality driving surface.”

According to a U.S. 31W Safety and Efficiency report produced by the Trans­por­ta­tion Cabinet, the road work is geared toward long-term stability under heavy use.

“The asphalt above the existing concrete pavement will be milled up to five inches deep and replaced with new, high strength, fiber-reinforced asphalt to reduce the propagation of cracks,” according to the report. “Relief joints will be cut into the original concrete to minimize the effect of joints and cracks reflecting up through the new asphalt.”

The road changes also will result in a safer drive, the state says.

Between 2013 and 2017, the transportation cabinet said there were 2,248 collisions recorded within the project area, including nine fatalities and 413 injury crashes.

“When reviewing traffic history, severe crashes are often listed as side or T-bone collisions,” the release noted. “Reduction of conflict points using RCUT designs significantly minimizes the likelihood of these types of crashes.”

The remaining two phases to be completed are from St. John Road to Ring Road with a dividing line, Jessie said, in and around Baptist Health Hardin.

“All of us travel these sections of Dixie,” Jessie said. “The need for improvements to pavement and increased safety by reducing collisions is realized every trip through town. We all look forward to completion of this project ... ”

To keep up with project work, go to.US31W.org.

Jeff D’Alessio can be reached at 270-505-1404 or jdalessio@thenewsenterprise.com.

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