WKYT Investigates | Neighbors along Leestown Rd. want quicker fix for traffic, crashes
A double crossover diamond was originally supposed to be built on Leestown Road years ago.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Frustrated neighbors are reaching out to their lawmakers to ask for answers and action.
People who live in several neighborhoods along Leestown Road say they are fed up with delays that pushed back a proposed fix for growing traffic problems near the intersection with New Circle Road.
And, as they wait, neighbors say the problem is only getting worse.
“Oh, I say Hail Marys before I cross this road,” said Jeri White.
White has watched the area grow, having lived in the Meadowthorpe neighborhood for 22 years and another neighborhood along Leestown for close to 20 years before that, she said.
“When I have a green light,” she said, “I stop like it’s a stop sign and look both ways before I cross.”
For White and for others along the Leestown corridor, long backups and bad crashes have become an unfortunate reality - and a scary sight - for them on a near-daily basis, neighbors said.
The double crossover diamond interchange proposed for that location still has not been built, nearly 10 years after it was originally planned. The project, pushed back due to a lack of funding, is now scheduled to be built in 2024.
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Yet groups of neighbors have organized to push legislators for funding sooner as their frustration and fear grow.
Rock Daniels, president of the Meadowthorpe Neighborhood Association, described a grisly crash scene not far outside his front door as an example of what they are dealing with as traffic congestion increases and drivers often speed and run red lights in the area.
“Scary, and something you don’t want your kids to see, and scary to be a part of,” he told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer. “It’s scary enough to the point that when my wife texts me and says she’s within a mile of our house and she doesn’t show up in 15 minutes, I start to get flustered thinking that something happened to my wife and kids.”
It is, they have learned, the growing pain of “growing pains” for a part of the city whose population has soared, forcing drivers in the area to deal daily with the consequences of the project’s delay.
The total population of five census tracts along Leestown Road in that area was 4,760 for the 2000 census, data shows. Ten years later, it had skyrocketed to 16,519 (an increase of nearly 250 percent). By 2020, it had grown to 20,570.
For perspective, Fayette County’s population in total grew by nine percent from 2010 (295,803) to 2020 (322,570); the population of those five census tracts grew by 24.5 percent, proving it is a fast-growing segment of a fast-growing city, with one of the largest neighborhoods in the state located along the corridor.
It should come as no surprise, then, that a report on bottlenecks in the Lexington area identified the stretch of Leestown Road at New Circle as one of the worst-congested roadways in the city, along with the city’s more infamous culprits like Nicholasville Road, Harrodsburg Road and Newtown Pike.
But many people say they are frustrated that the proposed solution to some of these problems has taken so long to come to fruition.
“This is very important to this side of town,” At-Large Council Member Richard Moloney said. “We’ve got to make sure everyone gets their fair share.”
An engineering study report prepared for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet in 2012 said the proposed double crossover diamond (DCD) interchange at Leestown Road was originally scheduled for letting in the spring/summer of 2014.
Now that step is scheduled for Fall 2023, a KYTC district spokesperson said. The draft highway plan has the project scheduled for 2024.
The project had to be pushed back because there was not enough funding available, officials said, so the project was split up and the Old Frankfort Pike interchange was built first.
The Leestown Road DCD interchange is designed to be similar to the one built on Harrodsburg Road in 2011. A WKYT Investigates analysis last fall found that the Harrodsburg/New Circle DCD drastically cut down on crashes there over the 10 years it has been open. Traffic engineers say it also helped with traffic flow.
Both of those aspects could use similar improvement on this stretch of Leestown, officials said, now and in the foreseeable future.
“We’re out of places to grow,” Moloney said. “The comprehensive plan has Citation Boulevard, and that’s going to be a lot of growth out there, housing, retail.”
A 2018 traffic count shows an average of nearly 39,000 cars travel this section of Leestown Road every day.
“We need to think that it’s only going to get worse and worse,” Daniels said. “The impact of construction in today’s world would be horrendous for us, but we can’t even imagine what it would be like three years from now.”
That is why they are going to the source of state money - lawmakers in Frankfort meeting amid the General Assembly’s legislative session during a budget year - trying to encourage them to fund the project early by taking advantage of the state surplus.
Yet it is unclear how feasible moving up the timeline for the project would be at this point, even if it were funded immediately.
The Transportation Cabinet says it is currently acquiring right of way for the project, a step not expected to be complete until February, and numerous utilities also have to be relocated, which is expected to be done by Fall 2023.
“We’ve been left out,” White said. “All the other intersections are taken care of: Harrodsburg Road, Versailles Road, Old Frankfort Pike, the Georgetown Road widening, the road going to Keeneland at the part of New Circle. That’s done.
“But look at us,” she said. “We’re sitting in a mess. In a quiet neighborhood that shouldn’t have to worry about risking our lives to travel to our neighborhood.”
Neighbors said they fear the potential consequences of what could happen before the project is completed. The area - with Meadowthorpe Elementary School nearby - is bustling with school buses and children.
They also are eager for another part of the project - the construction of a sound barrier wall along New Circle near their homes and the elementary school.
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