Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Versailles bypass alternatives are narrowed to three, one leading into US 62; citizens voice concern

Story and photos by Laura Shrake
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

At the second community meeting to discuss the proposed Versailles bypass, Versailles and Midway residents voiced their questions, comments and concerns. The meeting at the KCTCS office in Versailles revealed the three options for the route of the bypass and offered citizens the opportunity to examine maps of the plans and talk directly with engineers on the project.

Previously, the alternatives included two more options, but the Citizens Advisory Committee for the project narrowed the choices to three and a no-build option. The three corridors are: Alternative A, wrapping nearest to Versailles; Alternative B, taking a wider path at the north end and funneling into U.S. 62, Midway Road; and Alternative C, taking the widest path and connecting to U.S. 60 beyond the Midway Road interchange.

Citizens looked at Alternative A as Midway Mayor Grayson
Vandegrift, standing at right, discussed the proposed bypass.
“A lot of (the decision) was based on traffic studies that were done,” said CAC member Buan Smith, the Woodford County road supervisor. “What would move traffic out of town without being too far out of town?”

Smith said that when the committee considered the options, it discussed which would be most useful in allowing traffic to travel from the north side of town to the west side of town without having to travel through a sometimes-bottlenecked Versailles. They also discussed which options would be the most advantageous without impacting too much farmland.

Smith noted that many of the objections the committee received early on were that residents “do not want it, it’s not necessary.” Midway residents, he said, are worried the bypass’s connection to Midway Road would send more traffic toward Midway.

A state engineer discusses one of the bypass alternatives.
Mayor Grayson Vandegrift echoes the concern of Midway for more reasons than this. “A lot of my constituents have serious concerns,” he told the Midway Messenger. “I would say the main one though is the potential, and in my opinion the likelihood, of increased truck traffic on Midway Road.”

Vandegrift said Midway already has too many tractor-trailers come through town on an especially narrow Winter Street (US 62) that is lined with houses with young children.

“You have a lot of people who are really concerned about public safety,” he said. “Not only in the form of traffic accidents, but actual public safety where kids play, people walk to church and school. It just feels like there’s maybe not been enough study done on this.”

Vandegrift and Versailles attorney Whitney Dunlap cited the Entran (now Stantec) study from 2010 and wondered why it seemed the findings from this study were not more carefully reviewed. In Dunlap’s column in the Lexington Herald-Leader last Friday, he said the study recommended eight modifications to modernize Versailles’ road system, the last of which being the bypass. At the public meeting, he said he was perplexed as to why all seven other options were not fully implemented before jumping directly to the most expensive option.

These modifications found in the study, according to Dunlap, include coordinating traffic signals downtown to help reduce bottlenecking, removing some parallel parking spaces to improve traffic flow, improving signage, making the existing bypass safer and less accident-prone, improving intersections, placing signs warning non-local tractor trailers not to travel through downtown, and building a roundabout where five roads intersect.

Engineer Arrell Thompson of Burgess & Niple, the consulting engineers on the project, called the bypass the “meat and potatoes option,” giving traffic the most bang for the buck. As outlined in the handout from the meeting, the project’s goals are to blend the new roadway with its surroundings while solving congestion issues, improving safety, encourage economic development and improve roadway capacity to accommodate future traffic volumes, improve mobility within the community and accommodate pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

At the meeting, state Transportation Cabinet project manager Rob Sprague said he would like to hear more design input on the alternatives, but most of his conversations were about whether the bypass should be built. He noted that the CAC has many members from Midway who are focusing on not building the bypass, and acknowledged that state studies have predicted a slight increase in traffic on Midway Road if the bypass were to be built. But ultimately the feedback he has received has been mixed, he said.

“We have had some that are interested in trying to get the traffic out of downtown and give it another route so the truckers don’t have to go through downtown,” Sprague said. “This would give them the ability to bypass downtown Versailles. It’s not a good place for trucks to go through because you just can’t maneuver down there.” He highlighted the bypass’s goals of reducing traffic accidents and improving traffic flow.

As for the concerns in Versailles, Vandegrift said he will “take them on their word that they do have a congestion problem at times,” but said “you cannot potentially push your problem onto someone else. My main question is why not look closer at that Entran study and figure out if there are cheaper solutions that would work that would save the taxpayers a heck of a lot of money.”

The bypass project is estimated between $27 million and $32 million, depending on the route chosen. Alterntative A is esimated to cost $32.2 million; B $29 million; and C $27 million.

“This is astronomically expensive … but I think it’s a done deal, I think we’re just here for nothing,” said Versailles resident Margie Evans.

Evans said the traffic problems in downtown Versailles are largely due to poor traffic management. She cites school buses stopping at the railroad tracks in town as an issue and thinks that if and when Woodford County High School is moved to Falling Springs Boulevard that much of the traffic will be alleviated.

“I want them to spend this money on the infrastructure that’s already there,” Evans said, citing many of the same suggestions proposed in the Entran study.   

The project is in the state road plan but does not have funding beyond preliminary funds for studies and the designing of potential routes. According to the meeting’s handout, the next steps in the discussion of the project include the Transportation Cabinet’s review of the oral and written questions and comments received at the meeting and holding a CAC meeting later this year to help select a preferred alternative. Right-of-way purchase is anticipated no earlier than January 2017.

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