Lexington downtown facelift faces U-turn

tflach@thestate.comMarch 17, 2014 

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Lexington leaders started a U-turn Monday on features designed to encourage motorists to slow down and discover downtown.

Town Council’s agreement to explore razing or altering the 11-year-old-facelift came after new Mayor Steve MacDougall said it might be necessary to alleviate long-time complaints about congestion.

“It’s something we should take a look at,” he said.

Some town leaders predicted the proposal could set back plans to revitalize the community’s oldest retail hub by making Main Street a spot for strolling and browsing.

Tearing out a landscaped median and other amenities “is not making it pedestrian-friendly,” Councilwoman Hazel Livingston said.

But other council members said the facelift is slowing traffic too much without causing many drivers to stop.

“It is one of our biggest bottlenecks,” said Councilman Ted Stambolitis, who successfully fought a plan to put a median in front of the shopping center he owns on U.S. 378.

Traffic on Main averages 16,200 vehicles daily compared to 14,800 a decade ago, counts by state transportation officials say.

Some downtown merchants and residents warned that tearing out the facelift would backfire.

Allowing traffic to move faster would make downtown “a very unpleasant place,” said architect Todd Sease, who rents shops and offices there.

Undoing parts of the $1.5 million project completed in 2003 is asking too much of merchants who endured 15 months of disruption when it was built, he added.

Redoing some, or all, of the project would take time because traffic lights, signs and utility and sewer lines would be affected.

Town leaders must stop looking at Main Street as a thoroughfare and stick with plans to make it a speciality shopping area, said Chuck Corley, a downtown resident who is chairman of the town Historic Preservation Review Board.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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