Getting back on track

La Grange City Council
decides railway future

Selected option unpopular among some merchants

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LA GRANGE, Ky. (August 2005) – Railroad track renovations along Main Street in downtown La Grange are necessitated by a Federal Railroad Administration rule clarifying the use of train whistles at unguarded intersections. All agree the renovations are long overdue, but now the hotly debated question is: What will the end result look like?
For several months concerned city council members, merchants and the Historic Main Street Renovation Committee, headed by Lucy Ricketts, have debated between two options for renovation. Concept 1 calls for two-way traffic on Main Street and will keep open a crossing at Jericho Road and Cedar Avenue.

La Grange Main Street

Photo by Don Ward

Main Street in downtown La Grange.

Additional elements include installing crossing arms where Main Street intersects First and Second streets, Ky. 53, Walnut Avenue and Cedar Avenue. The Third Street crossing will close. It hasn’t been determined yet whether Sixth Street or Kentucky Street will close. The Oak Street crossing will be re-opened.
The alternate plan is known as Concept 4 and would implement one-way traffic and the closing of the Jericho Road crossing, with traffic from the east of La Grange being routed down Cedar to Washington Street. A pedestrian mall would replace the current traffic lane on the south side of the tracks.
CDP Engineers of Lexington, Ky., was hired to draft a Master Plan for the renovation project. The firm recommended Concept 1 its choice, saying it would be less expensive than Concept 4.
Concept 1 passed by a 4-2 vote Tuesday, July 19, at a special city council meeting. It carries a provision giving the council the right to amend the resolution and requires the final plan to have the council’s approval.
By providing the stipulation to amend the plan, the final plan may not be “just” Concept 1 as it is now presented, said Ricketts. The final plan may also contain certain elements of Concept 4.
While no one disputes the need for repair, many merchants say their suggestions for the aesthetic quality of the project haven’t been heard. Trish Garlock of The Treasured Child toy store on Main Street said the debate has nothing to do with parking because it’s just a given that the town will lose some parking. Garlock cites safety as the main issue.
With two-way traffic, one lane would be on the south side of the street where Garlock’s business is located. Add to this a six-foot sidewalk, 8-inch curbing and a moving car. “There would be no buffer, and a lot of movement,” Garlock said.
Had Concept 4 been chosen, “We could have kept (and added) shade trees, planters, cafe tables and chairs and had a place for kid’s playground equipment,” Garlock said.
She wants to display playground equipment outside her store but has no room to do so in the crowded space along Main Street.
CSX, which owns and operates the railroad, has offered to donate old train parts to use for decoration or artistic purposes, she said. The idea is that people driving by will view an inviting space, even if the traffic pattern were to change to one-way traffic.
Kitty Bierbaum, owner of The Old Oak Frame House on Main Street, said Concept 4 is “more appealing to the general public.” This concept is better because of the lights, tables and large sidewalks that would be installed, she said. She suggested holding outside music events in this area, while providing a nice place for people to come to sit, visit and eat.
Bierbaum said Concept 1 is “not the safest.” According to Bierbaum, cars would be too close to the sidewalk. With Concept 1, speed would be reduced to 15 mph and speed bumps installed.
Even though she doesn’t prefer it, she is hoping for a trial run for Concept 1. If concrete barriers were placed along the sides of Main Street, everyone would get a better sense of the look and feel of the project, she said. Many merchants are concerned that vehicles, such as large fire trucks, wouldn’t be able to make the turn onto Main Street if the street were altered.
Bierbaum estimated that 90 percent of merchants prefer Concept 4. “You have to understand the difference between the two concepts,” she said. “We want Main Street to be unique and have that old town look.”
She has been to numerous public and city council meetings to voice her opinions along with other Main Street merchants. Bierbaum said Scott Southall, director of landscape architecture and planning for CDP, “never talked to us one-on-one.” Not every merchant could attend the meetings and express his opinion.
Southall stressed the fact that Concept 1 would be the best choice, providing a “good economic impact” for the city, said Bierbaum. Both she and Garlock agree that there should be some kind of impact study conducted.
Bierbaum’s business is a destination spot where customers drop off an order and come back at a later time to pick up their framed artwork. She fears the inconvenience of not being able to park in front of her business for a few minutes will be frustrating to some customers.
A permanent funding source has not been found yet, although there is the possibility of grant money being awarded, said Ricketts. The city’s municipal road aid fund may also be tapped.
The city council also voted to acquire property on East Main Street at Walnut and Chestnut streets to use for parking space. Ricketts, who is also a city council member, said the council was working on acquiring some nearby property as an alternate parking option.
Whatever the outcome, “We have to make the best of it,” Bierbaum said.
The next step is to meet with CSX, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Federal Railroad Administration.

• The Historic Main Street Renovation Committee will meet at 2 p.m. on Aug. 13 at Lesco Manufacturing on Ft. Pickens Rd. For more information contact Lucy Ricketts at (502) 222-1783 or (502) 262-3907.

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