A White-Paper on Improving Highway 44

A White-Paper on Improving Highway 44
One needed project of many.
David Strange
May 29, 2018
People have been talking for the majority of my life about the need to improve Highway 44 in Bullitt County. This paper is a treatise of my thoughts on the subject and improvements I propose. Saying anything in detail is the enemy of most people running for office, and for good reason; opponents or critics can take bits and pieces of those details and turn them against you. There is a cold political adage that “decisions costs votes”. That is certainly why most political people avoid facts and details like the plague. Nevertheless, I, as candidate for 4th District Magistrate stand up here and speak up with these open ideas. I will be speaking about the needs in other areas as we go along.
Much of what we call Highway 44 today was originally a path trod by wild animals such as bison long before Man came along. When pioneer settlers came, the paths were made into a wagon road. As automobiles became common, the old dirt wagon road was graveled, and eventually paved. Little real change was made beyond that. Occasionally, instructions would be given to add a few inches of pavement on each side, thus widening the narrow road a little each time, with little substantial base underneath. Sections have been rebuilt and improved over the years, but essentially much of Highway 44 is still an old wagon road, marginally maintained in a day when sometimes 100,000 car trips a day are made along the route.
As most residents have said for at least thirty years, it is time to improve Highway 44.
But how? How can it be afforded? After all, “they” often say it can’t be done; it won’t be done.
I say it can, and it should be, and here’s how. I’ve been saying so publicly by voice for at least thirty years and in print on the Facebook page I started in 2013, “Improve Kentucky Highway 44 Bullitt & Spencer County.
First, the scariest part for most people is the cost. Some declare it will cost a billion dollars to expand and rebuild the entire road. More down-to-earth estimates are 100-million, though a complete four-lane rebuild as some desire would likely cost more than that. Still a similar length of Highway 61 from Hillview to Shepherdsville in a multiyear project cost a total of about 100-million (according to one total I was given) and that was a full limited-access four-lane expressway. Far more than most people want for 44.
I include myself in that group. “Four-laneing” Highway 44 might be what is needed, but I want to avoid making it into anything like Jefferson County’s Dixie Highway.
Instead, I propose several simpler changes, at least for now.
A very simple and relatively inexpensive first step: Larger street signs, of all things. This step might seem almost laughable in its simplicity but would help tremendously in preventing many of the most common auto accidents. You’ve seen these over and over. So many of the accidents we see on 44, especially between Shepherdsville and Mt. Washington, are rear-end collisions or “ditch-dives” in which a vehicle runs into a ditch to avoid the rear-end collision. Now it’s easy to say those are all caused by someone riding the bumper of the vehicle in front, and legally that is probably correct. But what really causes so many of those wrecks is the simple act of looking for a particular road…and suddenly finding it. Many of us have done this; I certainly have. You’re driving along, looking for s certain road, squinting your eyes trying to read the signs. Then suddenly, there it is! You hit the brakes so you can make the turn in time and Bam!, the person behind you wasn’t expecting the stop and rams into you. Easy fix. Make the street signs at least twice as big and as visible as possible. Can’t be done? Of course it can. The federal government already mandated larger signs but we should make them even larger like many are now in downtown Louisville. House numbers should be enlarged as well for the same reason, at least in the areas where there are multiple side roads and driveways.
Some say lowering the speed limit will stop wrecks. The problem with that today is the volume of traffic flow. Any firefighter can teach us about flow. If you have a very large water hose, it can take a lot of water at low pressure. But the smaller the hose, the higher the pressure (the speed) is needed to get the same volume of flow. Right now, we are stuck with a very small Highway 44 hose for a very large amount of flow.
Okay, that was the easy one. Now how about the road itself? Four lanes would be good, but expensive and intrusive on a lot of properties. I propose several solutions to this problem. First, start incremental change of the roadway. The most difficult and expensive areas are the highly developed sections. Nearly everyone has been saying for countless years that if we had started improvements years ago before development came, that it would have been far less trouble. Well, there are still many areas where that can still be done. Drive along 44 today, or view the recent videos that have been made, and you will see that there are still long stretches where there is little development. But you can bet in this growing county that those areas won’t last much longer. Working with landowners, jump on those areas where available and widen the road there, a piece at a time. One piece at a time and we can get there without busting the bank. For example, improved intersections have recently been built at Bogard Lane and at Bells Mill. Improve the quarter-mile section of 44 between them. There are many other similar places. I was taught the value of incremental change many years ago. It works in many widely-varied ventures. Chop away or build up one little bit at a time and before anyone realizes it the entire goal is complete.
What about the road? I say that even more important than four lanes are emergency lanes. Notice most of Highway 44. It’s downright scary. The road itself is frighteningly narrow, but the shoulders are what’s going to get you. There is literally less than six inches of road between the side stripe and oblivion along many parts of the road; in some places there is none at all. Drift just a few inches to the right, perhaps to avoid an oncoming truck, and your tires lurch off a cliff from which it is impossible to recover. In addition, along those stretches, if there is a wreck on the road, or even if a vehicle just dies on the road for any reason, traffic comes to a standstill. There is just no place to go. So, I propose widening the existing lanes, but more importantly widen the shoulders and include emergency lanes wide enough to go around a problem or to allow problem vehicles to move to the side of the road. This also would help emergency vehicles which sometimes just cannot get to the accident scene in a timely manner for all the congestion.
What about traffic lights? You might be surprised that I am not a big advocate of adding traffic lights. Oh, they are certainly needed for safety-sake. For example, a light is needed badly at Bogard Lane and other spots as well. But regular traffic lights also cause traffic problems. Take Highway 61 at Hillview, for example. I, and most likely you, have traveled that section of road at low-traffic times. Sometimes there would be hardly another car on the road. But with those lights, you can pull away from one traffic light, go a quarter mile, and be stopped by another light, and then another and then another. It can sometimes take forever to travel that five-mile stretch of road even if there is not another car to be seen. So yes, I am an advocate of properly-placed traffic lights, but they should be “smart” lights, capable of determining traffic flow and need. Otherwise an otherwise excellent stretch of road can be brought to a standstill for hundreds of commuters for no reason at all. Traffic safety is priority; but traffic flow is essential as well.
All, or any, of this can’t be done? I disagree. I am a believer in “wheresoever two or three come together in agreement” there is strength. Bullitt County is one of the largest counties in the state; tenth in population the last I looked. We are 80,000 strong and growing rapidly. Imagine what we could do, what we could demand, if all 80,000 of us came together in unity, without descent. Sure, that’s not going to happen. But 10,000? 20,000? Even just all the leaders?
It is simply a matter of priorities and unity of purpose. Many projects have been larger and were completed. Bullitt County does have many needs, many critical needs, and those needs do not have to be mutually exclusive. Just look around the county and you can see that one project does not stop all others.
The priority just needs to be placed on the needs of the people, not just on profit. The new loop road that is being proposed does nothing for traveling people along 44. It is more for opening up more land for more development. That might or might not be a good thing. It might even be a great thing for its purpose. There are certainly some very good people whom I respect working on it. But the priority, the focus, should be on real improvement on the lives of regular residents of the county; on improving, and certainly not diminishing, the quality of life for us all.
I, like so many others for at least the past 30 years, have said if Highway 44 improvements had been done back then it would have been so much easier. Let’s not continue to sit around for another 30 years, only to look back again and say the same thing.
We keep being told “they” will never do this; “They” say it can’t be done. Well, perhaps it’s time to replace “they” with “we” and get this work moving.