State should allow more local input on road projects

Published 8:58 pm Wednesday, May 29, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

It may be time to give local governments and residents more influence over how state-maintained roads in their area are managed.

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As detailed recently by Danville Municipal Utility Engineer Earl Coffey, there are several examples right here in Danville of projects that local governments are interested in and residents support, which are in a holding pattern because the state hasn’t given the OK.

One of those projects is the addition of a traffic light at the intersection of the Danville Bypass and Belinda Boulevard — an intersection known to local first responders for causing an above-average number of wrecks, many of them involving higher speeds and worse outcomes.

The bypass is a state-maintained road, meaning it’s up to the state what’s done or not done. The state has a formula with certain criteria that must be met in order for it to consider placing a traffic light — and guess what? The bypass/Belinda intersection doesn’t meet the criteria.

It’s understandable why, with more than 60,000 lane miles of state roads to maintain, the state defaults to using formulas and criteria to pick and choose what gets done. But no formula will ever be perfect. Somewhere, some scenario will meet exactly the wrong criteria and slip through the formula’s filters.

When the people making the rules depend too heavily on formulas, it also causes those with problematic scenarios to look for ways to game the system.

Danville’s bypass intersection problem is exactly one of these scenarios. It slipped through the cracks in the state formula. So, without another option, local leaders have looked at ways they could alter the intersection’s statistics, by building a new connector road and funneling additional traffic to the problem area, helping it meet one of the state’s criteria. Even if that happened, a new light wouldn’t come immediately, and in the mean time, there would be extra-heavy traffic at a dangerous, still-lightless intersection.

That’s a lot of hoop-jumping and pretzel-tying just to get a common-sense solution to an obvious problem. It would be much easier to solve if the state would add a greater degree of flexibility to its formulas and requirements by increasing the ability for local governments, with the support of their residents, to make the case why a certain project shouldn’t have to check the normal boxes.

After all, those of us who live and work in Boyle County are the ones who drive the bypass. And the taxes we pay help the state pay for its maintenance.

We’re not suggesting the state roll over and spend its money on any little old project a community says it wants. That would be expensive and chaotic. But we think the laundry list of unmet traffic needs in Danville is proof there’s too little local input at this point in time.