A section of Rose Street will remain closed until this summer because of a utility project, city officials said this week.
Meanwhile, the University of Kentucky and the city of Lexington will complete a study of Rose Street to determine how its closing affects traffic on surrounding streets. The city and the university have been in talks for nearly a year over the university’s request to permanently close Rose Street from Columbia Avenue to Huguelet Drive.
That section of Rose has been temporarily closed since July 2014 because of construction projects on the campus. The university’s city-issued permit to close the street expired Jan. 5.
A new construction project — the installation of a steam pipe underneath the road — will mean the road is likely to be closed until at least this summer, city planning commissioner Derek Paulsen said.
“We will make that determination when we see their construction documents,” Paulsen said of reopening the section. “But the street will reopen before classes resume next fall.”
UK spokesman Jay Blanton said the construction work is extensive.
“For the next several months, a utility project is underway that will involve the installation of steam piping and will require repair work, ultimately, to the road and sidewalks,” Blanton said.
Paulsen said Wednesday that the city wants to get the Rose Street traffic study done quickly so a final determination on the closing of Rose Street can be made. The scope of the study has not yet been determined, nor has the cost or whether the university will help pick up the tab.
“The university will be a full partner in this important initiative,” Blanton said. “It’s an appropriate and opportune time to initiate such a study.”
UK asked the city last April to permanently close that section of Rose Street, citing pedestrian safety. But city officials and many council members have expressed reservations about permanently closing the street without considering how it will affect traffic on other streets.
The university’s master plan also calls for the closing of Hilltop Avenue, a small but popular cut-through on the university’s campus. During an Urban County Council Committee meeting in August, several council members said they didn’t want to consider UK’s request to close a section of Rose Street by itself. Instead, the two possible street closings should be considered at the same time, they said.
The university, though, hasn’t asked the city to permanently close Hilltop.
Councilman Jake Gibbs, whose council district includes Rose Street and Hilltop Avenue, said the roughly dozen or so constituents who have contacted him are opposed to the permanent closing of Rose Street. Gibbs said many of those constituents live in the Columbia Heights neighborhood and say they have seen more cars and trucks on neighborhood streets since the road closed in July 2014.
Gibbs said much of the discussion about the permanent closing of Rose Street has been based on traffic collision data. But that looks only at accidents, not the volume of traffic, Gibbs said.
“We have been lacking in real data,” he said.
Gibbs said he understands the concerns about pedestrian safety on campus, but the city can’t close one street and push problems to other areas. For example, collision data show there are more accidents on South Limestone than on Rose Street.
Gibbs said Rose Street also is the easiest way to get to UK’s Markey Cancer Center.
“I am a walker, and I don’t know how many times I have been walking and people have stopped and rolled down the window and asked me how to get to UK or Markey,” Gibbs said. “Many of these people are coming from out of town — particularly Eastern Kentucky.”