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For drivers frustrated by Ky. 9 traffic hassles, two roundabouts should provide welcome relief

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Posted at 1:51 PM, Dec 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-19 13:51:11-05

NEWPORT, Kentucky -- Construction on the northern end of Kentucky 9 in Newport has drivers facing road closures and detour signs, but by the fall of 2017, drivers will be traveling in circles thanks to two new roundabouts.

The roundabouts, circular intersections in which traffic flows almost continuously in one direction around a central island and drivers exit at the right of the desired road, will be located at the bases of Veterans Bridge and the Taylor Southgate Bridge. The construction is meant to improve access to Newport and minimize delays on the road, which is often congested.

“Roundabouts are a safer intersection design than traditional signal stops,” said Nancy Wood, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokesperson. “They eliminate left turn movements and move traffic more efficiently. With roundabouts, vehicles yield instead of stop, so more vehicles can move through the intersection with less delays.”

The continuous traffic flow allows drivers to avoid waits at stops signs or signals and significantly increases safety, according to federal studies.

A rendering of proposed aesthetic enhancements to one of the roundabouts under construction. Enhancements are expected to include landscaping, signage and historical tiles. (Rendering provided)

While the addition of the roundabouts is meant to improve traffic flow, for now the construction project has caused numerous road closures.

Third Street in Newport is closed between York Street and Columbia Street. York is closed between Third and Fourth. Traffic traveling to U.S. 27 south via York follows the signed detour east on Third, then south onto Monmouth Street; traffic then turns right onto westbound Fourth and the detour ends at the intersection of Fourth and York. Access to Riverboat Row and B.B. Riverboats via the Columbia Street flood wall gate will remain open to traffic.

Information on the closures is posted on the city’s website and social media sites and well as through information distributed by the state. Click here for up-to-date info on lane closures and traffic realignment during construction. 

Members of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet consulted with the city of Newport throughout the planning of the project, which is being paid for through state funding.

According to Newport City Manager Tom Fromme, the city advocated strongly for the use of roundabouts instead of traditional stops, in part because of the added safety they provide and the opportunities for improved aesthetics. Additionally, he said, roundabouts are a better use for future construction.

“They will allow for an easier location of an eventual replacement of the Fourth Street Bridge,” Fromme said. 

While new to Newport, roundabouts have seen growing popularity in the Tri-State in recent years.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety studies of U.S. intersections that were converted from traffic signals or stop signs to roundabouts have found reductions in injury crashes of 72-80 percent and reductions in all crashes of 35-47 percent. The tight circle of a roundabout and the curvature of the road leading to it force drivers to slow down, making the most severe types of intersection crashes -- right-angle, left-turn and head-on collisions -- unlikely.

Additionally, roundabouts are considered better for the environment due to reduced emissions and fuel consumption from a reduction in vehicle idling.

“We’ve used several in Northern Kentucky. We’ve been implementing them for the last eight to 10 years,” Wood said.

Some of those include two on the campus of Northern Kentucky University, one on Kentucky 237 in Hebron and one on Highland Avenue.

The two Newport roundabouts and connecting roadway are part of the northern-most phase in a multi-phase plan to reroute the Kentucky 9 corridor from Wilder all the way to the riverfront.

The first phase focused on the alignment of the road between 12th and Ninth streets. The final phase, expected to begin in the fall of 2017, will include the middle portion of the road, tying all the sections together.

The finished road will have two lanes in each direction, bike lanes and sidewalks. The enhancements are expected to safely move traffic on Kentucky 9 through Newport, provide regional connectivity and provide opportunities for more economic development.

“It is beyond a simple explanation as to how important this development is to Newport,” Fromme said. “Some of the benefits include the opening up of the west end for development and potential job creation. It will reduce traffic and associated problems in residential neighborhoods and it will reduce commute time for people going to work.”

Once the roundabouts are completed, the city plans to enhance the aesthetics of each of them through the installation of landscaping, signage and historic tiles featuring the story of James Taylor, the founder of Newport.

In August, the city commission approved a contract with Vivian Llambi and Associates for basic design services. Enhancements will also be made to the entrance to the city on the south end of the road. The city plans to raise funds from the public and business community to pay for the project.

The 2012 General Assembly appropriated approximately $26 million to connect Kentucky 9 to the Taylor Southgate Bridge in Newport.