Southside Pet Shop has operated at 7031 Southside Drive since 1972, but owners Rich and Becky Gent say their business won’t be around much longer if the proposed expansion of Southside Drive becomes a reality. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is in the preliminary stages of a project that could expand Southside between Strawberry Lane and New Cut Road to as many as seven lanes in some spots and require the acquisition of property from a number of businesses along the thoroughfare.
KYTC says the project is necessary because estimates show high traffic volumes creating congestion and reduced safety along the roadway. But some South End community leaders and business owners contend that the project is designed to encourage the development of an industrial park on the Kenwood Drive-In property at 7001 Southside Drive.
“They say there is no link between this business coming into Kenwood (Drive-In) and the state coming in to move the roads from three lanes to seven lanes,” Rich Gent says. “Then what is driving this? It’s going to kill our business. We’re going to lose our parking lot. We’re not going to have anywhere for the customers to park. Most of our deliveries come in on 18-wheelers. There is not going to be any place for the trucks to get in. It’s going to dramatically alter the traffic flow pattern for every business along Southside Drive.”
Paul Davis, the KYTC engineer in charge of the Southside Drive project, says the expansion is in its initial planning stages, so it’s still too early to know how Southside businesses will be affected. Phase one of the project, which includes preliminary engineering and environmental studies, should be complete by the end of the year. Phase two, which involves coming up with specific design and land requirements, is expected to begin in 2014. The Kentucky Highway Plan already includes money for the first two phases of the project and some right-of-way purchases, but KYTC must get permission from the state legislature before spending more of those funds. The project has alarmed some South End community leaders to the point that they are encouraging the area’s state legislators to withhold funding until the five-lane option is taken off the table completely.
“Our neighborhood and our business associations both voted at their January meetings to oppose the five-lane widening,” explains Barbara Nichols, president of the Iroquois Area Business Association. “We are not against any widening. The three-lane option has been talked about for a long time, but the five lanes, where did that come from? We feel like it has something to do with the Kenwood Drive-In property, but that’s just speculation.”