|A rendering of the early plan for the US 27 Corridor in Newport shows the one lane going each way with a turn lane down the middle.|
by Robin Gee
After an extensive design phase and with a $6.3 million grant in hand from the OKI Council of Regional Governments, the city of Newport officials plan to begin construction this coming spring on improvements along the US 27 corridor (also known as Monmouth Street within the city) from 11th Street south to Bluegrass Avenue near the border between Newport and Southgate.
|Traffic research indicates a road diet on US 27 in Newport will not impact traffic flow and may improve safety, according to officials working on the Smart Corridor Initiative.|
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The project fits well into the city’s recently passed 2020 Comprehensive Plan Update, as well as its partnerships with other Northern Kentucky cities across the region, said Assistant City Manager Larisa Sims.
"We’ve been working in partnership on the US 27 Smart Corridor Initiative with Southgate, Fort Thomas and Highland Heights and taking a look at the corridor, and the improvements along the corridor."
Plans are "being coordinated whether it be for streetscapes or whether it be for Smart City Initiatives like smart signalization [smart traffic lights], high-speed internet connectivity, small cell [low cost, low radio frequency for cellular] or other things of that nature. These are things we have been discussing as a group," she explained.
|Barre3 Fort Thomas. Located at 90 Alexandria Pike.|
Minimizing impact on businesses
What started as a straightforward plan for streetscape improvements along the route became an extensive research project to find the way forward, after officials took into consideration the project’s impact on the businesses in the area as well as pedestrians and drivers.
"We wanted to improve the sidewalk, put the utilities underground, add nice lighting, trees and whatnot," said Sims. "...When we got into the nitty gritty of it, we took a look at where the right of way actually was, and we found out a couple of things that made us want to look for alternatives."
The stretch of US 27 is currently four lanes, two lanes running each way. Officials realized a lot of businesses had parking, signage and curbs that were in the city right of way. Sims said to widen the sidewalk would mean relocating some of that and would end up impacting businesses negatively, not what planners intended.
In addition, there were already significant utilities underground including water and sewer. To add electric lines was complicated. The Kentucky Transportation Department frowns on locating utilities under the lanes themselves, so more space would be needed.
Coming up with a new plan
Sims said she and her colleagues went back to the drawing board to explore alternatives. They came up with a plan that may have seemed a bit out of the box at first, but it was worth some exploration.
"We asked, what if we looked at reducing a lane, widening the sidewalk, widening that area of right of way to allow for additional space for the utilities, while not negatively impacting these businesses and their parking spaces?"
The planners said, if they were to do such a thing it would have be a "no brainer," said Sims. "We did not want any negative traffic impact, we had to make things better in the corridor for vehicles at the same time we were making it better for pedestrians and bicyclists."
They hired a traffic engineer to take a deep look at their idea and to do extensive traffic counts and modeling. The corridor was looked at for traffic at different times of day, multiple days of the week, multiple weeks and a variety of traffic conditions, Sims said.
The plan would bring the number of lanes to three, one going each way and a center turn lane. Despite the seemingly drastic change, the engineers discovered it would not greatly impact traffic flow or what Sims refers to as the "level of service."
For most of the corridor, the plan worked well, yet there is a significant amount of traffic between Carouthers Road and 11th Street in the morning coming off the interstate, Sims said. This forced an adjustment for that area of the roadway, but the solution was a simple one. Instead of one lane going each way with a turn lane, the road in that section will be two lanes headed northbound and one headed southbound, eliminating the center turn lane. Sims noted that the area has only one intersection and so the loss of a turn lane there should not be a big problem.
Going for a win-win
After the traffic study, "we felt confident this road diet would be something that would be beneficial for everyone. We’d be able to get the streetscape done, but we wouldn’t negatively impact the businesses. It would be a positive for them because they’d have enhanced street frontage. It actually makes the roadway safer... It ended up being a win-win in terms of traffic, in terms of safety and in terms of aesthetics," Sims added.
Southgate officials were concerned about the plan initially. The corridor project was set to cross into their city as far as Highland Avenue.
"Overall I had concerns about coming up to Highland, especially the capacity coming northbound on Temple Place," said Southgate Mayor Jim Hamberg. "It would have been very difficult to have a road diet right there."
He contacted Newport officials and voiced his concerns. "I got confirmation today from their engineer, the road diet coming from Newport southbound will go only as far as Bluegrass Avenue in Southgate."
Looking ahead to spring
"We look forward to having this project. It’s a nice enhancement for the south part of the city. So much focus has been happening in the urban core, right on the river, but we think this project is really going to enhance the 27 corridor and that business area of the city," said Sims.
Although it started out as more of a beautification project, Sims said she is happy the changes should also make the corridor more safe.
Newport Mayor Tommy Guidugli agreed. "We consider the South Monmouth Corridor to be a very important gateway into and through our city. These needed improvements not only enhance the aesthetics of the area but also provide improved pedestrian safety."
If all goes well, the project will be out for construction bid in early 2022 and will begin, weather dependent, in Spring 2022, said Sims.