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The city of Spring Hill changed its policy on allowing a traffic light at U.S. 31’s intersection with Wilkes Lane this week.

The Board of Mayor and Alderman voted 6-2 to void an item that prohibited the installation of a traffic light on U.S. 31 at Wilkes Lane, citing the benefit to safety as worth the potential negative impact to traffic congestion during peak travel times.

The vote does not mean a light will be built, or that there are any plans for one, but that putting a light there is no longer prohibited.

The vote means that now there can be four lights in a mile-long stretch of Main Street from Buckner Road to Campbell Station Parkway.

The Transportation Advisory Committee this month recommended lifting the prohibition, despite a traffic study done earlier this year that said that having four lights could add an overall increase by 16 percent in travel time through the corridor.

“We think this light stands on its own,” Chad Whittenburg, alderman and TAC Chairman, said. “Does the study say that it could potentially slow down traffic during peak hours? Absolutely, but I don’t think that is the only thing we need to look at. We need to look at safety, turning movements, how people are going to get to and out of businesses and establishments that we want serviced here in Spring Hill. I would love traffic to move quickly down 31 but that is not the only thing we need to look at.”

Wilkes Lane, which has three, and perhaps soon as many as five, restaurants on its corners, had been identified as not a location for a traffic light by the city’s most recent study of its U.S. 31 corridor.

In April, BOMA adopted an Access Management Policy on U.S. 31 from Campbell Station Parkway to Buckner Road based on recommendations from that study, done by Volkert. That resolution allowed a light at Williford Court and not Wilkes, and explicitly prohibited one at Wilkes Lane. The light is in the works already at Williford Court, as part of the mixed-used Cadence Crossing development.

A study, more recent than the Volkert one, done by the developer of the ‘Old Silo’ property, however, recommended a light at Wilkes Lane.

“I think we need to accommodate Wilkes to be a full collector road … that is in fact going to be serving not just this development but the other developments on Wilkes Lane to access 31,” Jonathan Duda, Ward 2, said.

Aldermen Amy Wurth and Brandon McColloch voted against lifting the prohibition.

“We are going to make this already gridlocked area of 31 even worse and I won’t support making that are any more difficult to move through during peak hours than it already is,” Wurth said. “The [Volkert study] says by adding four lights within a mile, you increase traffic time by 16 percent. We have school traffic, we have Cadence Crossing coming in, and traffic will increase 10 fold in that area. Just read the report, we are wanting it to say something it doesn’t say.”

Wurth moved to defer the vote, which failed 3-5, in order to have more discussion or study on the issue.

“There are other options at Wilkes we can consider,” she said. “But I don’t think a traffic light is one of them. We hired Volkert to do this study for this city. The developer comes in with a plan that contradicts ours. Of course it is going to be more likely to follow their interests. We hired our own firm. You can say they have better data or they don’t. I would like to look at our study, the one we paid for, and have more discussion.”

Whittenburg, who originally supported the prohibition as TAC Chairman, changed his position on the issue because of the newer study.

“I have said the same thing: I am a man of science and routinely state we need to follow our studies,” he said. “What is missing here is you also have to understand there was an additional study done that had more relevant and current data that says a signal is warranted at Wilkes Lane. And we asked them to go back and do more work than the first time. That is part of what we are also using. Obviously, traffic at its peak down 31 is a huge concern but traffic lights serve more purpose than just getting cars from point a to b.”

He said lights serve safety, and connectivity, and pedestrian access.

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