Lexington's Newtown Pike extension, envisioned as a beautiful gateway to the city leading people into downtown from the interstate, will be marred by the visual clutter of overhead power lines, critics said Wednesday.
Utility lines on wooden poles will line the roadway and the bridge over Town Branch, much to the dismay of business people and city officials.
"The emphasis the city promised was a pedestrian-friendly, elegant design with nice landscaping and crosswalks and reasonable grade changes. All that has been sacrificed to high-speed auto traffic," said Graham Pohl.
Pohl and his brother, Clive, both Lexington architects, expressed their concerns to the Urban County Council at its work session on Tuesday.
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The Pohls learned power lines are planned to go overhead two weeks ago when KU contacted individual property owners to sign agreements for utility easements.
The Pohls have not given permission for the utility lines to cross their property.
The brothers own property on Manchester Street that will be at the northwest corner of Newtown Pike and Manchester when the new road is built. They are also investors with developer Barry McNees in the nearby Distillery District.
"We don't want to hold up construction of Newtown Pike, but we are holding out to get the right thing done," Graham Pohl said. "They should be burying the power lines."
Pohl said images in early brochures about the roadway "showed what the intention was — there are no power lines."
"We have spoken to so many people, and everyone seems to know it will be regretted forever in this community if these lines are not buried now, while the road is under construction," he said.
To go back after the project is finished and try to bury lines sometime in the future "would be so ridiculously expensive, it will never get done," he said.
The Pohls were also appalled to learn that the intersection of Newtown and Manchester will be elevated 14 feet above the current road bed. "We heard 8 feet, maybe 10 feet," Pohl said. "We never heard 14 until a few weeks ago."
Councilman Tom Blues, whose district takes in this part of Newtown Pike, said he thought there was a "general assumption, and I shared it" that the utilities would be buried.
He called it "very late in the day" to learn these details about the project and try to correct them.
Blues asked Mayor Jim Newberry at Tuesday's work session to have representatives from KU and the state Transportation Cabinet come before council "to make a full presentation" about the project."
"See if there are any alternatives to overhead lines," Blues said.
Newberry agreed. Blues hopes the presentation will be next week.
The Newtown Pike extension, funded by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, will cost $87 million by the most recent estimates.
When completed, the 1.5-mile road will extend from West Main Street at Newtown Pike to South Limestone at Scott Street, near the University of Kentucky.
The road contract has been awarded, and work is scheduled to begin next week, Newberry told council members. The project is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2010 World Equestrian Games.
Joe Kelly, senior adviser to the mayor, was asked when plans for burying the utility lines changed. He said overhead lines were "always the plan, as far as I'm aware."
Kelly said possibly the images Pohl and others saw were done to show road and bridge construction. "Preliminary design work of the roadway has to be done first." Once those plans are in hand, "they know where to move things like power lines," he said.
Lack of money is the obstacle to burying the utilities, Kelly said. The cost of running overhead lines is about $35 a linear foot; burying lines is about $475 a foot.
"It comes down to money and what that would add to the cost of the project," he said.
Kelly said the state has made several changes in the project at the city's request. These include designing the bridge over Town Branch to be distinctive and to include an element of public art. "That added a million dollars to the cost," he said.
Also, the state will put traffic signals on poles extending over the roadway, instead of using wires. Kelly said the state is also looking at the feasibility of burying utility wires at intersections.
However, Councilwoman Cheryl Feigel said, "It would be almost criminal to let Newtown Pike be developed without burying the utilities."