Officials in fast-growing Boone County team up with OKI to map out new transportation plan

BURLINGTON, Ky. -- Boone County is creating a new transportation plan to address increasing traffic problems and public transportation in an area that continues to grow. 

In fact, growth hasn’t stopped here since 1998.

But don't expect just a new road here or a wider road there -- innovation in roadway design and technology will play a big role in the final product. An ongoing $300,000 study with the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments has one more round to go through with the public later this fall before the final version will be created.

The road development plan will also include walking and biking paths, something residents have stressed that they want during public meetings and in a survey, said Robyn Bancroft, strategic initiatives manager for OKI.

Naturally, it’s all going to cost money and that will narrow down the projects and budget, Bancroft said.

“We can’t do everything,” she said. “We want to make those dollars stretch."

Boone County, now the fourth largest county in Kentucky, was in eighth place in size back in 1998 and is expected to move into third by 2026, surpassing Kenton County. 

All that growth has brought businesses, jobs and an onslaught of home construction. 

This year is not unlike 2005, when the county was growing so fast and officials “were seeing pinch points in our transportation system," said Gary Moore, Boone County judge-executive. Now, most of the projects that were on the 2005-6 transportation plan are either complete or still in the works. 

And while home growth has slowed some, new businesses and jobs continue to pop up in the area at a fast pace, Moore said. Among those newcomers includes Amazon Prime Air, which announced in January that it will bring 2,000 jobs to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Moore said there are two immediate needs here: alleviating congestion and opening up space for more home and commercial development on North Bend Road in Hebron and U.S. 42 from Union to Florence. An interchange on Interstate 275 at Grave Road would solve the first need, but Moore said there’s no answer yet for the second.

The traffic bottlenecks are spread across the county, Bancroft said, and residents are "worried that will get worse.” 

What will the road plan look like?

The planning process includes plenty of feedback from residents. OKI has had meetings and booths at fairs and events to directly ask folks what they want, in addition to a web survey. 

The next step is taking all the data and making a list of priorities, said Bancroft. Some of that will be fluid, as funding for one project might be available before another one. And over a decade, some needs might change or be modified. 

But technology such as smart signals, fiber optics and traffic-monitoring cameras will be a part of the solution instead of just simply widening the road, said Moore. Innovative road design that incorporate elements like roundabouts and other designs that make travel more efficient will be valued. 

Residents also want to see more maintenance and improvement of existing roads, said Kevin Costello, executive director of the Boone County Planning Commission. While the small maintenance issues are not part of the bigger transportation plan, any concerns by residents have been passed to the county, Bancroft noted. 

Innovation also includes bike and walking paths that allow residents to bike to work or for recreation. They would connect to existing paths in the county. 

Ultimately, Moore would like to see multi-use paths that connect North Bend Road in Hebron to the Ryle High School campus in Union. 

Getting people to and from jobs is also critical, Moore said, so the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky also has been involved in planning as well. 

"When you get off the bus, you're not at the front door (of your workplace). You need sidewalks -- walkability and lighting is coming up more often,” Moore explained.

The county is concurrently updating its comprehensive plan, and CVG is updating its master plan, Moore added. All three planning groups are keeping each other informed so that final plans work hand-in-hand. 

Who will foot the bill?

Funding will be an issue as the federal government cuts back and the state deals with a gas tax shortage. 

“It’s going to be fiscally restrained,” said Bancroft. “We have a budget. We know there are more needs than there are dollars.” 

The goal is to focus on projects that will solve major problems, efficiencies and getting the best use of each dollar, she said. 

"The federal and state governments are asking states to have more skin in the game," said Moore. "Our need to have a match (to funding) is extremely important." 

Public-private partnerships will likely play a bigger role in future developments. For example, an owner of a large tract of land might want to create an industrial park, Moore said, or a landowner might contribute funds to complete a needed intersection to aid their development. 

"In some respects, we've done some components (of public-private partnerships) over the last 20 years, said Costello. 

He added that parts of Houston Road and the Veterans Way extension fell into that category. 

"I think you have to be creative and look at all the options," said Costello. "It may involve the private sector or even local government, making it more of a match." 

Moore also said he's asking the state legislature for more "tools in our toolbox" to help with funding. He'd like to see a transportation improvement district (TID) in Kentucky, like there is in Ohio. A TID allows a separate payroll tax for any improvements that affect that company until the debt is paid. 

Should the county have moved quicker on more road progress as developments boomed? 

Officials say it’s unlikely anything different would have happened because of the recession and funding issues. 

Boone County has been doing their best, Bancroft said, to keep up with the growth, while Moore emphasized the volume of projects that have been completed or are in the works. 

Besides, officials noted, any conversations take awhile to lead to new construction. 

"We started talking about a road in 1998 that would become Aero Parkway," said Moore. “Aero Parkway was completed in 2012. It was just the beginning.” 

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