Planners describe unconventional fix to Harrodsburg-New Circle intersection

Unique design at New Circle interchange meant to help ease congestion

kward1@herald-leader.comMarch 30, 2011 

This summer, motorists on Harrodsburg Road will get what the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet hopes is a long-term fix to congestion at the New Circle Road interchange.

But the new look might take a little getting used to — it will have drivers crossing over and driving on the left side of the road.

The design, called a double crossover diamond interchange, eliminates left turns that require drivers to cross in front of oncoming traffic, instead giving drivers access to New Circle Road on-ramps from the left lane.

Planners say the design will reduce delays and increase the capacity of the area along Harrodsburg Road between Pasadena Drive and Corporate Drive, which is traveled by more than 35,000 vehicles each day.

The state Transportation Cabinet held a public meeting to explain the project and get input Tuesday night at Southern Hills United Methodist Church.

"We have recurring congestion. We have safety problems," said Brian Aldridge, deputy transportation planning manager for Entran, the consulting company that helped the state design the project. "Once it's constructed, you're going to see tremendous benefits."

Officials at the meeting said the new traffic pattern might decrease the number of crashes, because it lowers the number of potential conflict points between vehicles.

That stretch of Harrodsburg Road has the highest crash rate of any major artery in the city, said Robert Nunley, branch manager for project development for the Transportation Cabinet.

From Jan. 1, 2008, through Dec. 31, 2010, there were 484 crashes reported on the half-mile stretch of Harrodsburg that runs between Beaumont Centre Parkway and Alexandria Drive.

At the Springfield, Mo., intersection where the first double crossover diamond in the U.S. was built in 2009, there was a 60 percent decrease in crashes in the first six months, according to information provided at the meeting.

Nunley said the configuration will save money, because it uses much of the existing infrastructure, including the New Circle Road overpasses. The project will cost an estimated $5.5 million, as opposed to the $15 million or $20 million it would cost to completely rebuild the interchange, Nunley said.

Work is expected to begin in early June, and traffic should switch over to the new pattern by Aug. 31. All construction should be complete by Nov. 15, Nunley said.

Most of the work will be done on nights and weekends.

While the plan isn't intended to permanently solve the intersection's issues, it should provide "a 10- to 12-year fix," Nunley said.

The double crossover diamond was first used in France in the 1970s, according to information from the Federal Highway Administration.

State officials said there are just five intersections with this layout in the U.S. This will be the first double crossover diamond in Kentucky, although two others are being designed for Interstate 75 just south of Florence, Aldridge said.

Stacy Robinson, who co-owns Sahara Mediterranean Cuisine in Beaumont Centre, said the traffic backups in the area are so bad that it sometimes takes customers who work in the office buildings on the other side of Harrodsburg Road 20 minutes to cross when they leave work in the afternoons.

"Whether that's the right plan or not, I don't know, but this is a terrible spot," she said. "Something needs to be done."

Several attendees at Tuesday night's meeting also welcomed the change, although some expressed uncertainty about whether Lexington drivers would be able to get the hang of the new design.

Anna Lee Brown, a Jessamine County resident who said she takes Harrodsburg Road to New Circle on her way to work each morning, wondered whether "there's a reason we don't use this model."

"It'll be interesting to see whether this'll be a new, innovative way to do traffic ... or it'll be a total mess," she said.

She said she hopes it's the former, because "it gets pretty backed up coming inbound on Harrodsburg Road in the morning."

Leslie Durbin, who lives in the area, said he drives through the intersections daily.

"It's very scary," he said of the current traffic pattern. "You've got four different lights within about 500 yards of each other." Often, he said, the first cars take off when the light turns green, only to have to stop quickly at the next light, increasing the chance of a rear-end collision.

Lexington city councilman Doug Martin said the state cabinet has agreed to add bike lanes as well.

"For once, Lexington will be ahead of the curve," Martin said. "I'm excited that this horrible traffic situation is going to get improved."

Herald-Leader staff writer Shawntaye Hopkins contributed to this report.

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