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As traffic issues continue to be a concern on KY 55 in the vicinity of the Interstate 64 construction site at Exit 32, state officials say that a temporary traffic light is not an option.
Mike Whitehouse, Shelby County magistrate in District 7, who had brought the issue to a head by discussing what he feels is a dangerous traffic situation at the entrance of the Martinrea Heavy Stamping, where he works, at a meeting of fiscal court, said he was disappointed to learn that a temporary traffic signal at that location would not be installed, as he had been under the impression that it would be.
Rep. Brad Montell (R-Shelbyville) said that option had been under consideration, but was nixed by the Transportation Cabinet.
“At one point, we were told a temporary light would be installed there, but that’s all changed now,” he said.
The concern stems from the congestion in front of the Martinrea plant, whose entrance is located in the midst of the construction on KY 55. Large trucks had been experiencing difficulty negotiating turns at Old Brunerstown Road because of the construction that restricted some parts of the road north of I-64 to two lanes.
The construction, which temporarily has reconfigured the eastbound exit ramp at Exit 32 from I-64 to permit a left or right turn onto KY 55, began in mid-September in an effort to make that area a little safer until the interstate widening project begins in full force next spring.
That construction is expected to take about three months, transportation officials said.
Shelby County Sheriff Mike Armstrong said he has visited the site several time and went out to the construction site again Wednesday to observe motorists to try to get a more specific idea of what the problem is and what could be done about it.
“I’ve just been watching people come out of the plant, and some of them don’t seem to be sure how far they can pull out, like they’re not really sure where the lane ends,” he said.
Whitehouse said the problem at Martinrea is mostly at 3 p.m. when that shift lefts out.
“It’s a very dangerous situation,” he said. “What happens is when you get out to the middle of the road to take a left to go back toward town, it’s a long span across [KY] 55 to get to the other side. You’ve got to be really moving to make it, because the distance is so deceiving and cars are upon you before you realize it. I think it’s sad that the state wouldn’t let us put up a temporary light.”
Andrea Clifford said that traffic engineers decided against installing a temporary light near Martinrea because it would cause a backup on KY 55.
“Difficulty for motorists exiting the plant occurs during shift changes for a couple of short time frames each day,” she said. “While installation of a signal would provide a convenience for vehicles exiting Martinrea, the traffic on Kentucky 55 would be severely impacted.”
Armstrong said that to his way of thinking, the issue goes beyond just being an inconvenience.
He said that even though the problem is at its peak for only a short period of time at shift change, that is long enough for a serious accident to occur, something he fears will happen if something is not done.
There have already been several accidents at that spot, but so far, none have been serious.
“I just wonder why the state doesn’t think it’s worth it to try to do something to alleviate this situation for just fifteen minutes a day, because there is going to be an accident, and somebody could get killed,” he said.
Armstrong said he had a few ideas that could help, such as installing a temporary signal, but only activating it at the time the plant changes shifts.
“Or maybe they could cycle this light behind us down there [at Isaac Shelby Drive], so that it takes longer to change, just for that period of time,” he said.
He also suggested that maybe state officials could arrange for traffic control for that time slot each day.
“I don’t know what the answer is,” he said. “What I want to know is, does the state know what the answer is? It’s hard to believe they didn’t foresee this happening.”
Clifford said Wednesday she would confer with engineers about Armstrong’s suggestions, and Thursday afternoon, responded back with a reply.
The answer was the same as before – no go for the temporary light.
“Placing a signal at this location would back up traffic on KY 55,” she said. “In addition, with KY 55 already being reduced to one lane for the construction, the traffic delays would be even worse with a signal.”
She said that engineers have also rejected Armstrong’s suggestion of lengthening the red light timing on the signal prior to the Martinrea plant entrance for the same reason – that it would cause a backup on KY 55.
“The timing on all of the signals on KY 55 between US 60 and I-64 has been coordinated to improve traffic flow by having them all turn green at the same time,” she said. “Adjusting the timing on all of the signals on KY 55 between U.S. 60 and I-64 has been coordinated to improve traffic flow by having them all turn green at the same time. Adjusting the timing on one signal would affect traffic operations at all of the other signals.”
Clifford said that reducing the speed limit was not an option either, and that the state is not responsible for providing traffic control.
She did not offer any alternate measures or suggestions from engineers.
Armstrong said in response to nixing his suggestions that he could not second-guess the engineers.
“I’m not one to pass any judgments on them; they are the ones who deal with those issues everyday, I only said what thought might work,” he said.
The construction that is taking place now was speeded up because state officials made reconstructing the Exit 32 interchange a priority because two people lost their lives in the area in 2010, and it has been the site of numerous harrowing near accidents because of its extremely short acceleration lane that allows motorists only 295 feet to merge into heavy traffic or veer over onto the narrow emergency shoulder.
The $37.5 million widening project will address not only that interchange but also the continued widening of I-64 to six lanes from where previous work ends just east of Simpsonville to Mile Marker 32.8. The remodeling includes lengthening all the entrance and exit ramps in addition to widening the overpass.