U.S. 31-W By-Pass between the roundabout at University Drive and Lehman Avenue could be getting much-needed improvements without significant disruptions, and the upgrades could come as soon as next year.
Louisville-based consultant Strand Associates, which the city of Bowling Green and the city-county Metropolitan Planning Organization hired to do an analysis of that section of the heavily traveled road, has come up with recommended changes that could be done as part of regularly scheduled repaving.
Strand’s recommendation is called a “road diet,” and it’s designed to trim problem areas along the road simply by drawing new lines.
The recommendation calls for converting the existing four-lane road to a three-lane artery that includes a two-way left-turn lane in the middle.
It could be done for an estimated $350,000, the cost of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s resurfacing of the road that is tentatively scheduled next year.
“It is a cost-effective way to maximize the existing footprint of the road,” said Joe Plunk, chief engineer for KYTC’s District 3 office in Bowling Green.
While improving traffic flow by reducing the number of lanes sounds contradictory, Plunk said a road diet has been proven to work.
“This removes all the left-turners out of the way of traffic,” Plunk said. “There are a lot of left turns being made off that road.”
Plunk said the bypass “essentially functions as a two-lane road” during peak times because traffic has to stop behind those vehicles waiting to make left turns.
The Strand study identified that problem, attributing it to the commercial development along the road that wasn’t anticipated when the bypass was built in the 1940s.
“Because the corridor was undeveloped with low projected volumes, little consideration was given to accommodating the heavy left-turn volumes that would eventually follow,” the Strand study pointed out.
Because of the commercial development that has occurred for decades, the Strand study said “the current roadway exhibits very poor access control.”
Strand backed up that analysis with statistics, pointing out that the crash rate on the bypass is three times the statewide average for similar roads. Adopting the road diet, according to the Strand report, would reduce crashes by 25 percent.
“I think it’s a positive thing,” said Greg Merideth, director of public works for the city of Bowling Green. “This (road diet) has been done in other parts of the state and has shown more consistent flow.”
Merideth said the Strand recommendations could be particularly helpful at troublesome intersections like the junction of Broadway and the bypass.
The Strand report said the Broadway-bypass intersection “has the worst operations on the corridor.”
Wait times at the intersection are worsened by the traffic volume and by the “split signal phases” of the traffic signal that often causes drivers to have to wait for the signal to cycle through three different phases before receiving a green light.
The road diet alternative would convert all approaches at that intersection to a dedicated left-turn lane and a shared through-right lane. This change, according to the Strand report, would allow for changes in the signal timing and reduce wait times.
“I think this will provide more mobility,” Merideth said. “There are always pluses and minuses with these plans, but it appears that the good outweighs the bad with this one.”
Plunk said the road diet plan is a great alternative to widening the road.
“That (widening) would have an impact on all the commerce that occurs on the bypass,” Plunk said. “We’d end up spending more on buying property and moving utilities than we would on the actual project.”
In contrast to the $350,000 estimated cost for the road diet, Plunk pointed out that a widening of the bypass from Fairview Avenue to Park Street has $1.5 million allocated in 2022 for right-of-way acquisition and another $1.75 million allocated for later utility relocation before construction even starts.
The $350,000 to be spent on repaving the bypass from the roundabout to Lehman Avenue will be the same with or without the road diet, Plunk said.
“We would bear that cost regardless of how the road is striped,” he said, “because the roadway was scheduled for resurfacing anyway.”
Karissa Lemon, coordinator of the city-county MPO, believes Strand has come up with a good plan to improve this section of the bypass.
“I think it’s a positive alternative,” Lemon said. “I think it will be a great improvement to the bypass.”
– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.