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The planned outlet mall developments south of Interstate 64 in Simpsonville have had one recurring condemnation from residents who live in that area: They don’t think adequate traffic studies were completed during the zoning application process, and they repeatedly have implored Simpsonville officials to require another independent test.
They say that because that area is largely rural and light residential, the addition of two developments totaling more than 750,000 square feet of combined retail space would have a devastatingly negative impact in traffic flow around the interstate and bring the potential for holiday-season gridlock.
Jamie Jarboe, a resident of the area, said she has done her own taffic safety test, and has witnessed dozens of vehicles ignoring stop signs when coming off the interstate in the area.
“We [Jarboe and many of her neighbors] are very concerned about the impact of the large amount of vehicles – cars, delivery trucks, even tour buses – that will be at the exit for one or both of the proposed malls,” she said recently. “We fear that the traffic studies have not taken into consideration the correct traffic volume, and the new roads have not been designed to accommodate this volume. Consequently, many of us feel that we will lose easy and safe access to our houses, especially during the holiday season.
“Further, the Simpsonville Police Department rarely enforces traffic laws at the intersection now - it is hard to realize how they will handle the new challenges posed by the malls and other businesses.”
Horizon Group Properties’ Outlet Shoppes of Louisville is a 364,000-square-foot center, which also includes three out lots on its roughly 50-acre development, which would be south of I-64 at the intersection of KY 1848 (Buck Creek Road) and KY 1399 (Veechdale Road).
Paragon Outlet Partners is planning the Simpsonville Outlet Mall directly east of KY 1848, with a 400,000-square-foot retail center with nine out lots. Both developers said they would like to begin construction this spring, with a target date to open by late summer/fall of 2014.
So if traffic is the main concern, just how long is too long to wait at an intersection? How is the safety of the intersection judged? What is an acceptable time for a stoplight?
What has drawn the most questioning from the public is the level of service grades that have been assigned to the intersections in the area through studies by Diane Zimmerman, a senior transportation engineer with Jacobs Engineering.
According to the traffic studies submitted by both development companies – both of which were completed by Zimmerman – all intersections will comply with Triple S Planning Commission’s requirements for the level of service with intersections, which is a D or better on an A-through-F scale.
To help formulate the rating, Zimmerman said she uses figures from the Institute of Transportation Engineers, which has compiled 40 years of data for traffic counts with popular land uses.
“Those can range from elementary schools to inland ports, or from gas stations to restaurants,” she said. “For these studies I used the information for shopping centers. There is information for outlet malls, but many of those are for smaller malls that were more popular in the 90s. I didn’t use that for this study, because the shopping center statistics were much closer to the size of these centers. Shopping centers are one of best entries because of the number of data points entered into the study. There are probably more than 500 entries on shopping centers, so it’s one of the most accurate.”
“The ratings are used to help add a qualitative value after the data is analyzed,” Zimmerman said. “An A is a free flowing intersection, where you may not even see another car, E is capacity, and F is failing. So it’s kind of like school grades, except there’s no way we can build every intersection to be an A.”
With E being capacity, Zimmerman said that means an intersection is a standard, usable and “safe” intersection.
“It’s important that we include ‘safe’ in the description, because the software and data we use are made to measure the number of vehicles per hour that a road can handle safely,” she said. “Now, since the [Triple S] zoning commission has capped the level of service at a D or better, that means it’s below capacity. And it’s important to remember that it’s a D or better. That doesn’t mean it has to be better than a D. And it certainly doesn’t mean that a D is a failing or poor grade.”
Andrea Clifford, District 5 public information officer for the Department of Highways, said she was unsure how the state rated levels of service for intersections, but she said she knows there are standards for traffic lights.
She also said that the area improvements were designed according to standards for proposed development.
“The roadway lengths were designed to accommodate traffic for an outlet mall development and mixed-use development south of I-64, and an industrial development [the Kingbrook Industrial Park] to the north of I-64,” Clifford said.
A capacity intersection, E, will grade out with an average wait time of 55 to 80 seconds, while an intersection graded D will have an average wait time of 35 to 55 seconds. A failing intersection, graded F, will have a wait time of more than 80 seconds.
So how does that compare to some of the county’s more heavily traveled intersections?
At morning drive time, The Sentinel-News counted an average stop time of about 90 seconds for one full traffic light cycle when turning from U.S. 60 westbound onto KY 55 southbound at the intersection with the Shelbyville Bypass. And at the intersection of KY 53 and U.S. 60 by Governor’s Square, another average count also showed a wait time of more than 90 seconds when turning from U.S. 60 westbound onto KY 53 southbound toward I-64.
Those times are small count-size averages, and they do not meet the standards of Zimmerman’s studies. Wait times can be shortened depending on the flow of traffic and how that triggers signal changes.
In Zimmerman’s two reports, which totaled 80 pages for Triple S, on the KY 1848, KY 1399 and I-64 exit ramp intersections show that:
The Kentucky Department of Transportation requires a forecasted outlook through 2024, and Zimmerman included that in her reports submitted to Triple S for each development. And those numbers show that the intersections are predicted to hold up well into the future, remaining at a D level or better with the completion of both outlet malls.
The delay times range from A grades with 5-second delays to D grades, with 51.3-second delays being the highest on Saturday peak hours traveling eastbound on KY 1399. However, that is only a .2 second increase from the 2014 projection and still well short of the capacity maximum of 80 seconds.
Although it remains to be seen if both outlet malls and the out lots will be built, there is no doubt that work will begin on both roads this spring, with completion expected by the end of the year.
The state had originally budgeted just over $10 million for the project, and it is expected to cover the additional changes because of the malls.
“The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is scheduled to open bids on Feb. 22 for a construction project for reconstruction of the interchange at KY 1848 and Interstate 64. “This project has not been advertised yet, but a notice should go out next week for it,” Clifford said.
The state will do the work on KY 1848, which has been planned for years, but it will not do the work on KY 1399, which under plans filed by Horizon Group Properties, would be moved about two-tenths of a mile south of its current intersection with KY 1848.
“As part of a memorandum of agreement, Horizon Group will move [covering the relocation and cost of construction] KY 1399 to the south, about nine hundred and twenty feet from the intersection of the eastbound [I-64] exit ramp with KY 1848,” Clifford said.
Moving the KY 1399 to the south of the Outlet Shoppes of Louisville would place the intersection farther from the I-64 eastbound exit ramp, which meets state regulations, and would provide a main entrance to both proposed developments, with the Simpsonville Outlet Mall’s entrance at the same spot but east of KY 1848.
The road also would loop Horizon’s development and resume its connection and continue south to Taylor Wood Road.
The state originally scheduled improvements to turn the currently 2-lane KY 1848 into a 5-lane road with a turn lane through the center starting at U.S. 60 and going south across I-64.
With the addition of two outlet malls and adjustments for KY 1399, some of the added improvements would include:
Tom Rumptz, the senior vice president of Horizon in charge of the development, did not return a message left by The Sentinel-News seeking comment on the KY 1399 changes.
Clifford also noted that traffic lights would be placed at the end of both exit ramps on KY 1848 and at the relocated intersection of KY 1848 and KY 1399.
“The signal at KY 1848 and KY 1399 may not be activated until the developments at this location are opened,” she said.
But before Horizon or Paragon can get started with roads or buildings, both will need to have planned unit developments passed by the Triple S Planning Commission.
Triple S Executive Director Ryan Libke said his office has been in conversations on PUDs with Horizon but has not talked with Paragon since the company’s preliminary plan and zone change were approved.
For a PUD to be considered for the February meeting, it would have to be submitted to the Triple S office by Jan. 28.
Buck Creek Road changes
The Kentucky Department of Transportation had already planned road improvements for KY 1848 and KY 1399, Buck Creek and Veechdale roads, but with the addition of two proposed outlet malls being built south of I-64, those plans were expanded. Here’s a comparison of the originally proposed changes, and what has been added with the developments.
Additional plans for outlet malls