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Traffic issue on KY 55 resurfaces

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Magistrates still concerned about congestion near I-64 construction

By Lisa King

Congested traffic near a construction zone that surfaced last fall again is drawing the attention of county and state officials.

Shelby County District 7 Magistrate Mike Whitehouse, who brought up last fall what he said was a dangerous traffic situation at the entrance of Martinrea Heavy Stamping, where he works, reiterated his concerns to a representative of the Transportation Cabinet at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Shelby County Fiscal Court.

“A shift lets out at three o’clock, and from three o’clock to three forty-five, you have to sit there for forty-five minutes,” he said. “Everybody is trying to get onto [KY] fifty-five, and it’s backing up way past McDonald’s. We’re making improvements, I get that, but we need help from three to four o’clock really bad.”

His comments address the intersection of Old Brunerstown Road and KY 55, on the northern end of where KY 55 narrows to accommodate construction of a new interchange over Interstate 64.

Whitehouse said large trucks had been experiencing difficulty negotiating turns. That difficulty has been compounded recently, Whitehouse said, with the arrival of warm weather, by more traffic coming from the other side of KY 55 in that area from farm-related businesses.

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.

Matt Bullock, chief district engineer for the Transportation Cabinet, told the court this first was brought to officials’ attention last fall.

“We could get the sheriff out there from three to four [o’clock] every day,” he said. “We can have the contractor get with the sheriff’s office, and we could reimburse them. That may be an option.”

Sheriff Mike Armstrong, after visiting the site last fall and observing it from his vehicle, suggested to the state that a temporary traffic light that would only be operation for the time in question could be used or the speed limit could be reduced, but the state vetoed those ideas, feeling those courses of action would cause a greater traffic backup on KY 55.

Bullock told a reporter Thursday that the state is looking into the possibility of having a sheriff’s deputy direct traffic at the location.

“I’ve talked to the project manager to get in touch with the contractor to coordinate with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, but I haven’t been able to follow back up with them to see whether that’s actually happened yet,” he said. “We can’t pay the sheriff’s office ourselves directly, but the contractor could pay the sheriff’s office to have an officer out there for about an hour from three to four o’clock, when Magistrate Whitehouse said that was the time when they have the most issues. The contractor could pay the sheriff’s office, and we could pay the contractor, which would just be a change order. That’s the way we could make that happen.”

Bullock said the construction project is scheduled to be completed in late spring of 2014.

“There will be a lot of shifting of traffic between now and then on I-64, as well as on Kentucky fifty-five,” he said.

Bullock explained the problem as he sees it.

“The problem is getting out,” he said. “The problem is for trucks turning left, going up toward U.S. 60. What’s causing a problem now is that you have to go down to one lane, so that one lane gets the amount of traffic that normally would be in two lanes, so there’s hardly any gaps for people to come out there. So it should help to have two lanes back [when construction is completed].”

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 eastbound 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.