PRESTONSBURG — The caution signs have already been placed, but local residents on U.S. 23 near Best Western say an upcoming barrier wall project will result in an increase in accidents instead of the projected decline.
According to information obtained from the Transportation Cabinet, from 2004 through 2006, there were nine reported fatalities and 17 injuries on this particular stretch of road. The Cabinet saw these statistics as a reason to try to eliminate the risk of cars crossing onto the other side of the highway.
Doug Wright, branch manager of construction for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, along with coworker Mary Holbrook, were present at a meeting held Thursday evening at the Texas Hold 'Em building on U.S. 23. The meeting's purpose was to inform residents along this stretch of highway that they will no longer be able to make left turns coming off the roadway when the project is finished.
The small meeting room was packed with residents who were obviously very upset with not only the decision to place the wall, but also what they call the untimely manner in which they were notified of the project.
"We didn't know about this until two days ago," said Maxine Rose. "What can we do about it now if they say it's already going to happen?"
Most residents argued that placing the barrier wall will force them to drive further up the highway and make a u-turn in order to come back down and reach their driveways, which they say will create more of a risk that someone will get hurt.
A second concern was the depreciation of property values due to the limited access from the highway. Most residents say they have been offered a lot of money for their property, but once this project in finished their land will be worth nothing.
Several residents who live along this stretch of road are also concerned about emergency situations, with one resident saying that she's had to call an ambulance for her husband several times and the new wall will force emergency personnel to travel a longer distance, therefore risking his life in those few extra minutes.
Suggestions of a caution light and increased patrols in the area were prevalent during discussions along with drainage issues, which residents say contribute to many of the accidents.
Several years ago, this section of highway was repaved with what residents say was a mixture of material that will not allow water to drain from the road in a proper manner. Since then they have seen an increase in accidents.
Despite this, Wright said he was not aware of any comparison studies done on this roadway regarding before and after the repaving.
When questioned about what they should do about the situation, Wright told the residents that work is set to begin Monday and likely little can be done.
"This group cannot stop it," Wright said. "It will happen."
Residents plan to start a petition and get it into the right hands before the project begins in hopes that they may be able to postpone it until they can convince the Transportation Cabinet that they are making what some refer to as a "stupid decision."