By Kelly Foreman/Staff Writer

Concern over the traffic safety of Cumberland Falls Highway has risen among Corbin citizens and officials in recent years as the area continues to develop.

But the problem may have only just begun.

Plans are already well underway for a 5,000-seat expo center, hailed as one of Corbin’s most exciting tourist attractions to date. An outdoor amphitheater is being considered for a summer theatre production. If all goes according to plan, both could be added to the existing technology center site, located between the Interstate 75 underpass and the Corbin bypass.

Traffic in the area is expected to steadily grow over the next several years as the highway becomes a major outlet of entertainment.

City Manager Bill Ed Cannon said in addition to the upcoming attractions, a variety of new businesses are destined to develop in the area. From hotels and restaurants to gas stations and shopping centers, the five-lane highway could face a potential nightmare.

According to statistics from the Corbin Police Department, 37 wrecks have been reported since January 2005 in the small stretch between the I-75 underpass and the first entrance to Baptist Regional Medical Center. Eight of them resulted in personal injuries. Two resulted in fatalities.

The Kentucky Department of Transportation (KDOT) is aware of the situation, and Branch Manager for Traffic Mike Calebs said the department is keeping a watchful eye.

In April, a study was conducted by the KDOT concerning the speed on the highway. The study resulted in the lowering of the speed limit to 45 mph from the underpass to the bypass, Calebs said. Formerly, Cannon said traffic moved at 55 mph and he thinks the reduction has made a world of difference.

“We took the first step in lowering the speed limit,” Cannon said. “As we see the property develop on top of the hill we’ll have to do something to slow traffic down more.”

Corbin Police Cpl. Rob Jones said he doesn’t think the speed limit reduction has helped lower the number of crashes or tickets he writes.

“It’s a bad area,” Jones said. “Every other car is speeding.”

Charles Jody said speed was determined to have been a factor in the death of his younger sister, Vicki Jody.

Vicki Jody was killed Feb. 8, 2005 while driving to work at the hospital on the Cumberland Falls Highway. Charles Jody said he would support any efforts to make the area safer.

“If she had not been going too fast, she probably would not have been killed,” Charles Jody said.

Jones said the primary problem area is near the entrances to Buckner’s Grill and Bar and O’Mally’s Restaurant. Cassie Powers, manager of the Tri-County Cineplex next to O’Mally’s, said the area is especially difficult to navigate when movies end in the evening.

“It’s definitely congested,” Powers said. “I think a traffic light is something to look into.”

Powers said if the area is not particularly ripe for a stop light, a caution signal could ease some of the difficulty in entering the highway from the side roads.

Calebs said there are eight warrants the KDOT studies to determine whether a traffic light would be beneficial in an area. Though a traffic study has not yet been done for a stop light, Calebs said in his opinion the highway would likely not meet the necessary criteria.

“At this time we don’t recognize the need,” Calebs said. “The delay is not significant enough.”

When a study is performed, Calebs said the KDOT looks at a particular intersection, not a stretch of road.

Among the items considered are the number of vehicles traveling through the intersection, pedestrian traffic and crash records.

Calebs said the KDOT keeps record of all reported wrecks and considers them seriously when a traffic light is considered for an area.

“Signals typically increase overall accidents,” Calebs said. “We have initiated (a traffic study).”

According to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, even the best laid plans for a traffic signal can cause undue stress on some roadways. From excessive delays to seeking alternate routes in an effort to avoid the lights, the manual also cites the increase in frequency of rear-end collisions.

As for the future, Calebs said the area would have to be reviewed again when the roadway becomes more occupied.

“If you have major development, it’s a traffic generator,” Calebs said. “We’ll have to look before it opens up for the installation of signals.”

Kelly Foreman can be reached at kforeman@thetimestribune.com.

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