VERSAILLES — A proposed bypass around the west side of Versailles is drawing criticism from residents of Midway who fear it will funnel big trucks and a lot more traffic into their city.
"It will increase traffic coming through Midway because it will give you a straight shot from Blue Grass Parkway to Interstate 64," said Midway City Council member and mayoral candidate Sharon Turner.
Midway elected officials and residents voiced their concerns Thursday when the state Transportation Cabinet held a public meeting at Woodford County Middle School. About 180 people attended the meeting, the purpose of which was to solicit public comment about the proposed Northwest Versailles Mobility Corridor.
The proposed road would extend Falling Springs Boulevard on the south edge of town around the west side of Versailles to U.S. 60, near the Midway Road (U.S. 62) intersection north of town.
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Versailles resident and Realtor Harold Steele said the bypass was needed to alleviate traffic congestion in the Woodford County seat's downtown.
"The congestion in downtown Versailles is unreal during work hours, start-of-school hours, after-work hours," Steele said. "I think it keeps people from stopping at our local downtown merchants. I heard a lady just recently who said she moved here from Michigan, who said she's never been downtown and not going because the traffic is dangerous down there."
Furthermore, Steele said, "At the corner of Lexington Street and Main Street there's been two people almost killed by tractor-trailers either turning off Lexington Street onto South Main or off Main Street onto Lexington Street. That's why this bypass is needed."
In addition, Steele and Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott said, residents who live on the city's south side will drive on side streets like Kentucky Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard on their way to work in Frankfort.
"These are streets that are 15 feet wide and not built for through traffic," Traugott said.
Midway residents acknowledge that Versailles has congestion problems, but they say state officials need to consider the effects on Midway. At Thursday's meeting, several people from Midway peppered project manager Rob Sprague with questions. Among the questioners was Eric Gregory.
"Is the bypass a done deal?" asked Gregory.
"It's a project as long as it's in the highway plan," Sprague said.
The current six-year highway plan includes $2 million for design of the road in 2014-15, $5 million for purchase of rights-of-way in 2016-17, $2 million for utilities relocation in 2016-17 and $30 million for construction starting in 2017-18.
"I'm a little concerned that somewhere in this political process there's been a determination we should have this bypass, yet there is no evidence that shows that there is a need for this bypass," Gregory told Sprague.
"We seem to be caring a lot about taking out the congestion of downtown Versailles, but we're not caring about what the end effect on Midway and U.S. 62 is," Gregory said.
Similar concerns were heard in 2006, when the community debated whether to proceed with a feasibility study for the road.
Sprague emphasized that the bypass was still in a preliminary or conceptual phase of design. He anticipated that it would be in that stage for "13 or 14 months."
"We're coming here with a clean slate tonight," he said. "We've purposely not done anything so we could have conversations with people before we started working on the project. We've not designed this roadway yet."
A handout showed three possible places where the bypass might terminate on U.S. 60. One was directly across from the terminus of Midway Road. A second was at the existing intersection of U.S. 60 and Frankfort Street. The third was farther north of the U.S. 60-U.S. 62 intersection.
The handout asked people for their preference on where the bypass would "tie into the existing roadway."
Turner said she had hoped the bypass would tie onto U.S. 60 closer to Frankfort so truckers would head north to I-64 rather than be tempted to take Midway Road.
Steele said he doubted that tractor-trailers would take Midway Road in the first place.
"But I have seen many tractor-trailers on Midway Road and Old Frankfort Pike that haul hay, straw and horses, and we don't hear any complaints about those," he said.
Comments gathered at Thursday's meeting will be considered as the design consultant and state officials decide what to do in regard to the road, Sprague said.
He said there would be at least two more public events like the one at the middle school, and possibly more.
"If we as a cabinet think this project is not good, we will give that information to the ones who are higher up in the Transportation Cabinet," he said.
An advisory group of local elected officials and citizens will be appointed to meet periodically and discuss the status of the project, Sprague said. (Advisory groups for the widening of U.S. 68 in Jessamine County and for the proposed U.S. 27-Interstate 75 connector road between Madison and Jessamine counties have included opponents to those projects.)
Perhaps 20 or more people will be on the advisory committee, Sprague said.
Midway Mayor Tom Bozarth told Sprague that Midway would need representation on the committee.
"I think you have to have officials from each government (Midway, Versailles and Woodford County) be a part of this committee, and I think you also need to have proper representation from the citizens of Midway to be on this committee," Bozarth said. "We are part of the county and we have concerns about it."
Gregory asked Sprague to have a public meeting in Midway. "It's great to have it in Versailles, but Versailles is only part of the puzzle here," he said.