By STEVEN NALLEY
Engineering representatives working with the city of Starkville presented two alternatives for expanding South Montgomery to three lanes at a public meeting at the Starkville Sportsplex Monday.
Both of the alternatives used right-of-way the city already owns for the three traffic lanes as well as areas for pedestrians and bicyclists, although the possible need to purchase additional right-of-way for utilities and certain intersections remained. More than 40 community members were in attendance, and several of them commented, giving the representatives feedback needed for the firms to formulate their final recommendations to the city.
The city commissioned the consulting firms of Smith Seckman Reid, Inc. and Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc. to evaluate a 2.7-mile section of South Montgomery Street stretching from Poor House Road to Academy Road. Wain Gaskins, project manager at Kimley-Horn, presented findings from the traffic studies and assigned grades from A to F for traffic flow in different directions at each intersection.
“We’re used to our children bringing home A’s and B’s, but truly, C is a good grade from a traffic perspective,” Gaskins said. “You may have to stop, slow down just a little bit to make a turn — something like that — but it’s really very good traffic operations. (Grade) A is really free-flow; it means they’re not having to stop for anything.”
Gaskins presented morning and afternoon ratings for current peak traffic flow at South Montgomery’s intersections, where the only rating below C was a D for eastbound afternoon traffic at the intersection with Academy road. More D’s appeared in traffic projections for the year 2035.
Gaskins said Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman also asked the firms to evaluate what would happen to traffic if growth exceeded expectations, so he showed a graph evaluating traffic at 150 percent of projections for 2035. On that graph, several intersections, including Academy Road, dropped to F in at least one direction.
Most of South Montgomery Street’s traffic issues could be boiled down to left turns, Gaskins said. When drivers turn left out of neighborhoods onto the street, he said, they cross two lanes of traffic which do not stop. When drivers turn left off the street into neighborhoods, he said, they stop traffic coming from behind them.
The latter is a key cause of frequent rear-end collisions, Gaskins said. Out of 33 vehicular collisions documented over the course of three years, he said, 16 were rear-end collisions, six left cars in ditches or embankments and five were collisions with deer.
“The critical part of (expanding the street to three lanes) is the central turning lane,” Gaskins said. “If you have a turning lane, people that are wanting to exit thru traffic can get in that turning lane and be protected to some extent while they’re waiting to make that turn across the traffic, allowing the thru traffic to move on through.”
The first of the two alternatives Gaskins presented places bicycle lanes and sidewalks on either side of the traffic, with a small strip of landscaping between the curb and the sidewalk per city regulations. The second alternative also includes landscaping strips on each side, but it localizes all pedestrian and bicycle traffic to one larger lane on one side of the street.
Both alternatives would allow motorists to maintain a 3-foot distance from cyclists, Gaskins said, and both alternatives fit within the 60 feet of right-of-way the city owns on South Montgomery. That does not mean no right-of-way would need to be purchased, he said; for example, intersections would need extra right-of-way for the extra roadway to properly wrap around turning radii.
“We’d also need to extend some drainage, so we may be looking at drainage easements in some locations, (or) slope easements (or) utility easements,” Gaskins said. “Really, in terms of roadway construction it would be minimal when you compare it to any other type of roadway.”
During the comments section of the meeting, South Montgomery resident Mack Flynn asked if additional right-of-way would need to be purchased for utility poles, and Gaskins said the poles could be located on the landscaping elements flanking the curbs in both plans. Flynn said some properties are still too close to the right-of-way to safely expand the street as proposed.
“When you get to Fairfield Commons where those houses are right on the property line, right at the utility line ... there’s no way to move,” Flynn said, “unless you buy houses or go across the street and zigzag with people going excessively fast on South Montgomery now.”
John Montgomery, a Starkville attorney, asked Wiseman if there were plans to relieve traffic from South Montgomery Street to Mississippi State University by connecting Poor House Road to it. Wiseman said MSU was “well on their way” to building a south loop project which would create such a connection.
“One of the issues with the south loop is it is considerably further south than where a lot of the densest development on South Montgomery is,” Wiseman said. “It may be desirable to go south and then go on campus, but I don’t think it’s going to be a major reliever of traffic for the existing subdivisions, which are further north than where that south loop is going to be.”
Another question pertained to the cost of the project and the sources the city would use for funding. During the presentation, Gaskins said the project would likely be conducted in phases, with the first phase covering 35 percent of the corridor, reaching slightly south of Banyan Road, costing between $2.9-$3.4 million. Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker said he had originally planned to use State Transportation Improvement Program dollars to fund the project, but STIP no longer allows cities to store up their grants for multiple years to fund large projects.
“Now it is a bidding process where they still have the STIP money, and we missed the 2013 budget year, (which is) what we were trying to get this under for the bidding process,” Parker said. “The more shovel-ready ... and more impactful the project is, the better chance you have of getting that federal money. The goal now, for the 2014 budget year is to have everything ready. Any right-of-way acquisition we would have to do, we would have that in process. We would have a shovel-ready project when we got ready to apply for those grants.”