Wilmore Y design concerns residents

Published 10:49 am Wednesday, September 9, 2020

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The state has awarded the contract to reconstruct the “Y” intersection north of Wilmore, and the work is expected to begin soon.

But some residents are concerned that the new intersection at Ky. 29 and U.S. 68 will be even more dangerous than the one that is there now.

William Ashbrook, who owns Sycamore Hill Farm on the east side of Wilmore Road (Ky. 29) near the Y, has seen some bad car crashes along that stretch and thinks there will be more if the “slip lane” on Ky. 29 remains part of the design.

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The way it is now, said the 84-year-old retired engineer, there is a flashing caution light and a stop sign where Ky. 29 merges onto U.S. 68. Drivers going north have to stop and look back over their left shoulder before proceeding.

Under the new design, the signal and sign will be removed, and traffic will merge into traffic going the same direction, just as drivers would on an entry ramp onto the freeway.

“This is a very short slip lane,” Ashbrook said, and traffic on Ky. 29 will be moving at 55 miles per hour when it approaches the intersection if there isn’t a traffic signal.

“There’s little time to merge. You’ve got to decide quickly,” he said.

“I am seriously concerned,” Ashbrook said. “It’s bad, and it’s not much different than they’ve got right now except there isn’t a flashing caution light.”

Ashbrook and one of his daughters, Pam Stephenson, who met with state transportation staff, said a state engineer, Robin Sprague, told them slip lanes are unsafe, and many have been removed for that reason.

Sprague replied to an email The Journal sent him asking for confirmation, but he did not answer the question, saying instead that Natasha Lacy, a spokesperson for the state Department of Highways District 7 office in Lexington, would respond.

Lacy did so Monday in an email, but she also did not directly answer the question about what Sprague might have said.

“We are not aware of any specific projects to remove slip lanes,” Lacy said. “From a general standpoint, we do continue to evaluate intersections where conditions may change and improvements need to be made. The Transportation Cabinet does not have a policy to remove them, or not use them as a project solution.”

Lacy said it was important to clarify “what is commonly referred to as a slip lane.” The term usually refers to a short lane for right-turn movements from one route to another, and they require yielding.

“This is not what is being designed for this project,” she said. What is being planned is an added lane on U.S. 68 that will give drivers approximately 650 feet to accelerate and merge into northbound traffic on U.S. 68, or Harrodsburg Road.

Those going south on U.S. 68, however, would no longer merge left onto Ky. 29 by veering across the oncoming lane of U.S. 68 onto Ky. 29, but would turn left and come to a stop at Ky. 29 before turning right, according to Wilmore Mayor Harold Rainwater.

“I’m fine with the design based on what I know of it,” he said.

Rainwater said he trusts the state traffic experts and engineers to come up with the best and safest design for the project the City of Wilmore has wanted for 20 years.

The intersection has been the scene of multiple injury accidents and fatalities in the past 10 years.

Members of the mayor’s own family were among those injured in an accident there.

“We just agree to differ on that,” Rainwater said, referencing Ashbrook’s concerns. “I think it’s going to be much safer.”

But Ashbrook and his family aren’t the only ones who are concerned about the design.

On the City of Wilmore’s Facebook page, there has been a debate about the new intersection since the beginning of the year.

Eric Folsom questioned whether a slip lane was the right approach.

“It seems to be replacing a very dangerous intersection with a somewhat dangerous intersection,” he commented.

“No light?” Karla Dugan asked. “Will they be lowering the speed limit … in that stretch? … I do think it’s better, but it still leaves a ton of room for error at high speeds,” the McCauley Lane resident added.

Randy Ezra Rainwater said it is “the best and least invasive” design.

Scott Rinehart pointed out that without the old motel and grocery store that were torn down this summer, the intersection will also be darker, and he asked whether street lights would be included.

Street lighting isn’t planned for the intersection, but it could be added if the local government wants it, Lacy said.

Jill Davies Weast, who said she was rear-ended in the intersection and had whiplash as a result, was “thrilled” that the state was finally making changes to improve the intersection.

David Carlstedt, Wilmore’s director of utilities and public works, would not return phone calls from The Journal, but in a Facebook post in January on the city’s page, he called the new intersection a “fantastic design” and said it is “no longer negotiable.”

Melissa Caywood McGuire, who lives in Harrodsburg and drives U.S. 68 often to visit her mother in Nicholasville, told The Journal in a phone interview she has read about the hazards of slip lanes and isn’t convinced that they are safe.

“With a slip lane, you are not slowing down,” she said.

But Brad Bigam, who lives in the area, said he went to one of the public hearings at Wesley Village on the intersection, studied the three design options presented and liked the one the state settled on.

“I thought the design looked good,” he said.

“People keep saying it’s dangerous, but I want to see evidence,” Bigam said.

Ashbrook said he has written a letter to the federal and state transportation secretaries, the governor and the state attorney general asking that the lane be reconsidered.

Lacy said the state Transportation Cabinet had two public meetings, on April 8, 2014, and July 7, 2015, and received input on how to improve the intersection. The right of way has been purchased, utilities have been relocated and the construction contract has been awarded based on the design.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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