All that congestion on Newport's Pavilion Parkway brings headaches for some, big bucks for others

A hefty boost to the city's tax base
Caught in Newport traffic? Be happy for the city
Caught in Newport traffic? Be happy for the city
Posted at 7:00 AM, Oct 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-01 07:00:17-04

NEWPORT, Ky. -- If traffic is backed up along Carothers Road or Memorial Parkway here, it's not necessarily a bad thing, officials say.

Unless you're the one stuck in the backup.

Nearly 10,000 vehicles use Pavilion Parkway on a daily basis, according to the most recent numbers from IRC Retail Centers, the company that owns the Newport Pavilion shopping center. Pavilion Parkway is the road that loops through the Pavilion and connects Carothers and Memorial Parkway (10th Street).

Some residents say they stay away at certain times. Daytime shoppers in the parking lot at Kroger this week said evenings were the worst.

Tia Taylor of Newport says she also avoids weekends and holidays.

Don Stubbeman of Newport said he shops every day and traffic, well, "it's insane." A Kroger shopper since the grocery store opened here, he said the traffic is only getting worse.

But all that traffic is good for stores and restaurants, company and city officials say, even if it's challenging to travel at some times of the day.

How good?

Newport City Manager Tom Fromme said taxes, mostly payroll and occupational, brought in $750,000 from Newport Pavilion in 2015. Only $300,000 goes toward a bond payment on the project and the rest goes into the general fund. Considering the city's budget is only $17 million, that's a hefty contribution to the general fund, he said. Other big contributors are Newport on the Levee (about $790,000) and One Riverfront Place (about $700,000).

Dawn Benchelt, director of communications and marketing for IRC, said the shopping center is one of its best properties.

"Overall, the tenants in that location are really strong performers," Benchelt said.

Newport Pavilion traffic surrounds the Chick-fil-A at lunchtime. A newer road behind Chick-fil-A leads to an exit onto Carothers Road next to LaRosa's.

Knowing the center is doing well doesn't ease drivers' frustration when they're trying to turn left out of the Chick-fil-A or the Dick's Sporting Goods parking lot onto Pavilion Way. But it's better than it was a couple of years ago, when the center was still filling retail spots, some shoppers say.

For others, like Annie Bennett of Fort Thomas, your view on traffic depends on where you used to live.

"I can't complain," she said, although she does avoid the 5 p.m. rush. "I hit Memorial Parkway and I'm home. My husband is from New York City, so he always says we have no complaints about traffic."

Today, the center is nearly 100 percent rented. One small space recently became available, Benchelt said, and the city has made changes as traffic has increased.

More people also are using Pavilion Parkway as a cut-through to Carothers or Memorial Parkway, Fromme said, which adds to the congestion.

Improvements were made to Carothers Road in 2014, fixing a dip in the road over about 1,200 feet and adding more access to the section of the Pavilion that lines that road, said Fromme. To ease congestion, drivers can now access or exit the section that includes Chick-fil-A and Buffalo Wild Wings by going through the LaRosa's parking lot, which is not a part of the shopping center.

The city also changed access to Carothers Road from Pavilion Parkway at the light -- adding a third lane so drivers can turn right without waiting behind traffic, he said. A blinking yellow arrow was added to allow left-hand turns from Carothers Road onto Pavilion Parkway if there is no oncoming traffic.

But more stop signs were added on Pavilion Way to slow traffic and help vehicles turn into the Kroger parking lot, said Fromme.

"You don't want to get to the point where you're in log jams for a long time. You also don't want people flying through there at high rates rates of speed," he said, noting that the road is posted at 20 mph.

A one-time entrance near the back of Dick's Sporting Goods was open during construction, but Fromme said the Kentucky Transportation Department won't allow exits or entrances so close to a freeway ramp.

The biggest issue in the last couple of years has been night-time hit-skip incidents, when six light poles were knocked down, costing about $4,000 per pole to replace, he said.

Both Carothers Road and Memorial Parkway are busy, with about 13,000 cars on 10th Street daily and 11,500 on Carothers, according to IRC numbers.

"Memorial Parkway is a busy road," Fromme said. "It's hard to make it more friendly. Carothers Road is the same way; it's a 45 mph roadway."

While not a lot of people walk to the center, Fromme said, the city recognizes there is some pedestrian traffic. Sidewalks were improved this year along the south side of Memorial Parkway, and a crosswalk was added to help people reach the bus stop on the north side of that road.

In the big scheme of things, the traffic is one sign that the Pavilion is succeeding, Fromme said, and that's what he had hoped from the beginning.

"The real constant is to keep people moving even during the busy times of the day," he said.

The city is planning to conduct its own traffic study in the coming year, he said, and make improvements as it can.