By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
Just nine days after showing plans to reconstruct part of U.S.25W on the south end of Corbin, state Transportation Cabinet officials gave residents their first look Tuesday at a planned project to make improvements to a stretch of U.S.25E on the city’s north end.
The project would start at the Ky. 770 bridge in Laurel County, and move east under Exit 29 of I-75, continue into Knox County and end at Corbin Bypass (Ky. 3041).
Brad Gregory, a consultant with Municipal Engineering Company of Frankfort, told the audience of about 30 persons at Corbin City Hall the road should be constructed “three to four years from now,” depending on variables such as right-of-way purchasing, utilities relocation, impact statements and design.
He added the project is totally funded for $14.5 million.
The proposed project for 25E — also known as the Cumberland Gap Parkway — got going after a study was done in Corbin about two years ago.
Phillip Howard, Project Manager for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s (KYTC) District 11 Office in Manchester, added the project was included in their district plan every two years before Gov. Steve Beshear picked it up for the state’s six-year road plan.
“I see 25E as a travel corridor to the Eastern Seaboard for through traffic. It’s a good thing and it’s a bad thing. It brings people here, but it also brings congestion. We will move into a Design 2 phase, and we’ll do that with your decisions. Keep in mind you do have local people driving this road, and you do have people driving through. Some going to the store, some going to St. Augustine (Florida). We’d like to get your all’s ideas if possible,” he said.
Gregory said the planned improvements to 25E would provide safe, reliable and efficient travel along the corridor by reducing congestion and collisions, improving access, and taking care of traffic capacity to handle growth in the future.
“It’s not only people who live and work along the corridor, but those who use the corridor by driving through it every day. It’s why we’re looking at various types of improvements along the corridor,” he mentioned.
Some possible ideas for improvement involved making turn restrictions, adding frontage roads and the need for more lanes on 25E.
Other improvements include the possibility of making major configurations of the road from I-75 to North Cherry Avenue, and from Ky. 1629 to Master Street (Ky. 312).
The second configuration would involve relocating Ky. 1629 to come in behind Kmart and intersect at Master Street, and eliminating the present intersection of Rt. 1629 and Commonwealth Avenue.
“We’re trying to anticipate 20 years from now where the problems are and where the growth will be,” said Gregory.
Information on what could be done along the stretch of road came from what highway department officials called a “Data Needs Analysis Study,” also referred to as a “DNA Study.” It involves the latest traffic data, the type of roadway facility, environmental concerns, vehicle crash history, and geometric design of roads, which looks at the physical elements of the road to make it safer and more efficient.
“The study outlines what the KYTC wants to do with the area and the corridor,” Gregory stated.
Two DNA studies were done on the project for Knox and Laurel counties, and were completed in 2012.
In the corridor of 25E the state wants to reconstruct, a total of 947 crashes occurred from January 2007 to December 2012. Of that total, 502 were in Laurel County, while Knox County had 445. A total of 429 injuries were reported, as well as 5 deaths. About half of the total crashes involved rear end crashes.
While it’s not part of the proposed corridor reconstruction, the infamous “Malfunction Junction” in Laurel County where U.S. 25, U.S.25W and U.S.25E meet was discussed by several in the audience, as well as officials.
Gregory talked about the need for a full-grade interchange in that area, and added a major study for a proposed interchange at the junction is going on.
In fact, he showed a picture of what’s called a grade-separated interchange that could be placed at Malfunction Junction. The photo shows traffic going east and west on 25E would continue to use the present route, while an overpass for U.S. 25 and 25W traffic would be built over U.S.25E, with exit and entrance ramps being used.
The planned interchange would alleviate having traffic lights, and bring an end to long delays at the junction, he said.
Corbin Mayor Willard McBurney added, “We all agree that there has to be an improvement on ‘Malfunction Junction.’”
The planned interchange is part of a separate project involving U.S. 25 from “The Junction” north to London.
Both Gregory and Howard mentioned the 25E and 25W corridor projects are high-priority ones that are funded by the state, and were needed.
When an audience member asked if this would have anything to do with the proposed Corbin Bypass Extension, a highway department official said that project was not a major priority at this time, and referred to it as “a scoping study.”
Along with the state Transportation Cabinet’s district office in Manchester, the 25E project design team members include Municipal Engineering as the lead design company, with HMB Professional Engineers working on environmental issues, and CDM Smith doing what’s referred to as traffic modeling.
Gregory said the next step is a public meeting set for November or December. It will be an open format meeting with no formal presentation, showing detailed maps and aerial maps of the existing area. He asked those at the meeting to continue coming to future meetings and let their voices be heard, so the project can meet their needs and concerns.
Most in the audience thought what was presented was helpful.
“It was very informative. I was glad to hear that the corridor is going further along than we thought it was. It gives a lot of opportunities for growth in Corbin, and it cleared up a lot of issues. I’m glad everyone got a good sense of what’s going on. The Transportation Department did a good job,” said McBurney.