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Reaction mixed to plan for one-way streets in downtown Lexington

New digital cameras on traffic signals are designed to alleviate congested roads in the center of Lexington. Traffic downtown often backs up for several blocks during morning and evening rush hours.
New digital cameras on traffic signals are designed to alleviate congested roads in the center of Lexington. Traffic downtown often backs up for several blocks during morning and evening rush hours. tdominick@thestate.com

A plan to create one-way streets on portions of two major roads in downtown Lexington is stirring appreciation and apprehension among retailers and shoppers.

But everyone agrees on one thing – the change coming by Jan. 1 probably will confuse motorists initially.

“At first, it’s going to be a massive headache,” said Joe Cribb, owner of downtown’s Cribb’s Sandwich and Sweet Shop.

One-way streets, common in big cities as close as Charleston, are new to the steadily growing town of 20,000 residents.

The town has tried landscaped medians and curbs to make motorists slow down in the center of the community where three major commuter routes intersect. And synchronized traffic signals designed to ease congestion were added in December. But switching to one-way streets is new.

Town Hall intends to start work soon on longtime plans to make stretches of Church Street and Lake Drive one-way, with the project finished by Jan. 1. The plan also will ban left turns onto Main Street from Lake.

The changes effectively will widen each street and allow traffic to flow better, Mayor Steve MacDougall said.

New signs, medians and traffic signals will direct drivers along a loop through the heart of downtown. Some intersections also will be widened slightly.

Some retailers are concerned that the changes will prove inconvenient for shoppers.

“It just seems everything the town has done before on traffic has been half-heartedly,” said Jeremy Addy, owner of Main Street’s Craig Reagin Clothiers. “They don’t take into account future impacts.”

Others believe the changes will be beneficial once drivers adapt.

“Traffic here always has been terrible,” said Zachary Branham, a barista at The Haven coffee shop. “You hope this is going to work.”

Others are taking a wait-and-see approach.

“It couldn’t be any worse than it is now,” said Candy Sansbury, manager of Cho on Main salon and clothing boutique. “We’ll won’t know if this helps until it’s in place.”

MacDougall is optimistic that the $1.9 million plan will work, saying it will increase mobility greatly by doubling traffic capacity on each street.

“I think people will find it very easy to navigate,” he said.

Average daily traffic is 17,000 vehicles on Main Street (U.S. 1), 12,500 on Lake Drive and 3,500 on Church Street, according to tallies by state transportation officials.

The dozen new digital signals now in place downtown are off to a promising start, town officials say, moving traffic faster on main routes during rush hour. It’s too soon to say just how effective they are, though, before the entire network of three dozen signals is in place in 2017.

Some motorists are lobbying for removal of the landscaped median and curbs on Main Street that were installed in 2003 to persuade motorists to slow down and inspect shops downtown.

Plans to discuss removal of those feature are on hold indefinitely until town officials analyze the impact of the new signals and one-way streets.

Branham expects the landscaping will stay because it beautifies the area. “There’s no way that going to be torn out,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cribbs is preparing to endure the changes much as he did the Main Street landscaping 13 years ago.

“We muddled through that,” he said.

Tim Flach: 803-771-8483

If you go

You can learn more about the plan Thursday

Town officials will discuss the one-way roads plan at 6 p.m. Thursday at Town Hall, 111 Maiden Lane.

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