Growing populations worsening Nicholasville Road traffic

Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 6:56 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Most folks in Lexington have been caught in traffic on Nicholasville Road at some point, and there’s a meeting about it Thursday to address the issue.

WKYT checked the traffic count on major roads like Nicholasville Road, and we were surprised by the numbers compared to 10 years ago.

“Nicholasville Road always evokes a lot of strong emotions from people,” Chris Woodall said.

What comes to mind when someone thinks of Nicholasville Road?

“Its traffic, its safety, its congestion,” Woodall said said.

Woodall is the manager of Long-Range Planning for Lexington-Fayette County.

But before we talk about the future, let’s take a look back.

“Back in the 70s, this was a two-lane highway.” That’s what Coach David Cravens remembers about it. 50 years ago, farmland alongside the road was the future Fayette Mall, and the road itself was just two lanes.

“When we first moved here to Porter in 1970, you know, you had no problem with traffic at all. Of course, Fayette Mall wasn’t here at the time,” Cravens said.

Since 1970, the population of Lexington has tripled from 108,000 to 323,000 people. At the same time, Jessamine County’s growth has soared too. Nicholasville Road also leads to two major employers, Baptist Health and the University of Kentucky.

We expected the traffic count to reflect that growth. It didn’t.

“The traffic count can be misleading,” said Natasha Lacy with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

The average daily traffic count for Nicholasville Road between Jessamine Co. and Man O War Blvd. actually dropped in the last 10 years. It went from 56,000 vehicles a day in 2009 to 48,000 in 2019.

The same was true for Man O War between Nicholasville Road and Tates Creek. It went from 32,000 to almost 30,000 a day.

New Circle Road from Tates Creek to Nicholasville Road is the same—a slight drop.

“That doesn’t mean less traffic is out and about. You have to remember people can now take short cuts in neighborhoods and different areas, to avoid the busy corridors. That’s still a car on the road traveling,” Lacy said.

Now 10 lanes in some places, lines of bumper-to-bumper cars are common—and so are accidents.

In a recent three-year stretch, there were 4,500 accidents and seven deaths on Nicholasville Road.

“We’ve got to figure out how can we look creatively at this corridor, so that we can address some of these inherent issues, that are with the congestion we have now, but look at some future solutions that would be possible down the road, as well,” Woodall said.

The State Transportation Department and Lexington-Fayette County Government surveyed the public and studied ways of improving this road. Imagine Nicholasville Road, called for improving intersections, traffic stops, and merging traffic. Adding rapid bus service is also being studied.

“So we’ve laid out a concept here, that includes 14 different stops all the way from Brannon Crossing where we are right now, all the way down to the transit center,” Woodall said.

It’s still in the study phase with no fixed date on when, or if, bus service might happen.

“As things have changed and the redevelopment all up and down Nicholasville Road, traffic became increasingly more difficult to navigate,” Cravens said.

And there’s no sign growth and development will slow down anytime soon.

The transportation cabinet says the population of Jessamine County is expected to increase by more than 40% by the year 2040, and Fayette County is expected to grow by more than 33%. Transportation experts say the current roadway network will not support this level of growth.

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