Monday, March 11, 2013

National Scenic Byway label for Old Frankfort Pike could bring more traffic but also more money for safety

By Denny Densford
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Residents along Old Frankfort Pike voiced concerns last week about serious safety issues that plague the road and what making it a National Scenic Byway might do to compound those problems.
“You’re asking for more people to come on the road who are going to drive. . . much slower than any posted speed limit, and I see that as a huge problem,” said Shelley Johnson, who lives along the road.

Members of the group seeking the byway designation said it could actually make the road safer, by justifying a lower speed limit and making safety improvement projects more likely.

“It’s not going to be 100 percent safe,” said Fayette County horse farmer Don Ball, a member of Lexington-Frankfort Scenic Corridor Inc., which is seeking public opinion on its application for the designation. “But you can put signs up like ‘hidden entrance’ as well as lowering speed ratings and that will help a lot with what’s happening.”

Historic preservation consultant Chris Amos presided over the meeting. (Photos by Denny Densford)
The group held its second public meeting Wednesday at Midway College to hear from other residents and discuss issues and benefits of the designation and the federal funding that could come with it.

Chris Amos, historic preservation consultant for the group, focused on safety and traffic concerns and what impact designation would have on the 16.9-mile road, which is already a state scenic byway. She brought along Randy Turner and Phil Collins, two state Department of Highways engineers, to answer safety and traffic questions that were on the minds of the 15 people who showed up.

Johnson said she had major concerns about traffic on the road due to the growth of large horse farms in the area, and that being designated as a National Scenic Byway would only make it more dangerous. “I think inviting more traffic is worrisome,” she said.

Jessica Bollinger, another resident along the pike, said the combination of speedy cars and slow, bulky farm vehicles have already created issues along the route and she worried that more traffic would just compound them.

“People don’t need to go 55 miles per hour,” said Bollinger.  “A lot of these farms are transporting equipment around.”
These views were echoed through most of the meeting by other residents along the road, and most of their questions went to the two highway department employees.

Collins, a staff engineer with the department, said that while these concerns were valid, recognition as a National Scenic Byway would bring in more money for safety projects.

Ball, who lives along the road and said he has driven it since 1962, said he thought the designation would be good for the road and the local traffic on it.

He suggested a lower speed limit than the current 55 m.p.h. on most of the road, and Amos essentially agreed with the idea. “I think being consistent about the speed in this area is a good idea,” she said. The pike has two stretches with a 35 m.p.h. limit, at Faywood and Wallace Station.

Turner, a highway planning engineer, said, “There’s been a lot of talk about reducing the speed limit, and of course I’m one that’s in favor of that,” but added that any changes would take time, even with designation as a byway. He said any speed-limit changes would have to go through the state’s formal process.

Amos outlined what other changes might be made to the road, including moving ditches and culverts from roadsides to allow for wider shoulders.

But would these safety concerns go unheard if the road failed to obtain its National Scenic Byway designation?  Amos didn’t seem to think so.

She said the corridor management plan required for the designation has detailed information that would be useful in any event, and merely applying for designation would open the doors to future projects. 

She said the next project for the road would most likely be a detailed safety and transportation report that could lead to state-funded improvements.

“Before we even get to the point where we want to invite more people along the pike,” Amos said, “we want to make it as safe as we possibly can.” 

While the byway designation would bring with it 80 percent federal funding for projects, Amos said the application alone brings with it more justification for state funds to improve the road: “You do not have to be designated in order to then get into the opportunity area for funding to do projects to improve safety.”

Amos shows Shelley Johnson an aerial map of the road.
Amos’s presentation included maps and charts with detailed positions of all the accidents that had been reported along Old Frankfort Pike from 2000 to 2011.  Accidents caused by night driving, weather or aggressive behavior were not included, since such incidents would not be assumed to increase with the more casual traffic that National Scenic Byway designation would bring.

In addition to accidents, visibility along Old Frankfort Pike was also of concern to the crowd.  One individual in particular was worried that while the designation as a National Scenic Byway would increase tourist traffic, it would not make local residents slow down.

Amos said studies have found that drivers choose to take other roads after a byway designation due to the slower drivers that choose to explore scenic byways.

In addition to concerns about the road’s safety, Bollinger had concerns about the residents of the road and their voice in the matter. “How much of a consensus do you need from people?” she asked.

Though only 15 people attended the meeting, Amos said the group had contacted every resident along Old Frankfort Pike as well as government officials and she had not received any strong vocal opposition.

“Consensus building listens to who speaks,” Amos said.

The committee will continue gathering opinions and views as it builds the corridor management plan, said Amos.  The plan is scheduled to be completed in June 2013.

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