City hall

City commissioners heard a state proposal Monday night to reconfigure traffic patterns for one of the few arterial roads to downtown Frankfort.

It was met with mixed reviews.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet staff presented plans to commissioners for the future of East Main Street from Capital Avenue to U.S. 460. In the end, the road could either be left as its current four-lane structure on either side of its intersection with the Kentucky State University campus or changed on either side to a two-way street with a shared turning lane in the center. Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials pointed out the benefits for motorists, pedestrian and cyclists if the entire road was changed to provide two-way traffic with a center turn lane.

However, Commissioner John Sower asked whether the studies considered the impact of  the new state office building downtown and the planned development of former Capital Plaza land that held the Frankfort Convention Center and adjacent infrastructure.

“It’s going to really create a dynamic location in our hopes,” Sower said. “That’s the reason I’d say look at the four-lane, two up and two down … . That’s a real bottleneck at 4:30 and 8 ‘o’ clock.”

Commissioner Eric Whisman said the two-lane option with a shared middle turn lane would provide for greater pedestrian and cyclist access.

“In my experience, most people don’t use the far right lane because of the manholes and box cutters, so it’s effectively worked as a three-lane for much of its history,” Whisman said. “I think it would suffice just fine to have that, and I would prefer to have the additional pedestrian access for people.”

Commissioner Scott Tippett asked whether the commission’s input matters or whether the state would move forward with its preferred plans regardless.

Andy Barber, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet highway engineer, said the agency values the commission's input.

“Being good neighbors, good partners, we just wanted to reach out and tell you what we’re thinking,” Barber said. “We also wanted to get some of your feedback.”

Barber said parts of East Main Street west of Kentucky State University would be paved by the end of the year and the east stretch of the road would be done in 2020.

Adam Kirk, KYTC research engineer, presented commissioners with a list of pros and cons to the proposed changes in traffic patterns. When asked why the project is needed, though, Kirk pointed to crash data.

“This would probably be the biggest driver to it,” he said.

Kirk presented data from the length of Main Street that's under consideration. He said 381 crashes had been reported along the road over the course of five years, with only about 66 occurring west of the Kentucky State University intersection. A majority – 164 incidents – were rear-end crashes at Schenkel Lane and the KSU intersections, 74 were “angle collisions,” 51 were single-vehicle crashes, 35 were side-swipes and 19 head-on crashes occurred on the stretch over the years, Kirk reported.

“Those could all be addressed by lane configurations,” he said.

Kirk presented commissioners with examples of similar roads in the state that have undergone reconfigurations from four-lane traffic structures to two-lane traffic with a shared left-turn lane in the center. He gave examples of Euclid Avenue in Lexington, which has a traffic volume of about 16,000 vehicles per day, and U.S. 31 West in Elizabethtown, which has a traffic volume of about 20,500 vehicles per day. Both saw crashes decline along the thoroughfares up to 50%.

Main Street typically has between 15,000 and 17,000 vehicles per day, Kirk said, and the safety of those motorists would be the main upside of the lane configurations.

“You can definitely expect a decrease in crashes on the order of about 50%, possibly a little bit more,” Kirk said. “You would have improved driver comfort. You would have a much more consistent speed – much less high-speed traffic. You would have increased separation from roadside obstacles.”

Kirk said the biggest negative would be longer lines at signalized intersections like Schenkel Lane, but they would work with Frankfort traffic operations to make those signals more efficient.

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