Photo one: The realignment of Hands Pike remains on schedule to be completed by Nov. 1, 2022.
Photo two: An aerial view shows the challenge of overcoming the steep grade. (Photo provided by Nancy Wood, KYTC)
Rebuilt road to create safer route to, from South Covington
COVINGTON, Ky. – From high in the air, the hills near Hands Pike must resemble a giant’s sandbox crawling with Tonka trucks.
For months now, massive construction vehicles painted Caterpillar yellow have been steadily scraping, shoving, and moving earth and shale across the landscape, gradually carving a west-east swath straight down the hill overlooking Ky. 17.
The goal? A straighter, safer route in and out of South Covington.
Years in the planning and funding, the construction phase of what’s called the Hands Pike Realignment kicked off March 15, 2021, with excavation and utility work that recently also includes periodic blasting during weekday hours.
As the path for the road takes shape, state highway officials say the project remains on pace to be completed by Nov. 1, 2022.
“They’re just continuing to move material, and the construction manager says they’re about one-third of the way there to get to the planned grade,” said Nancy Wood, public information officer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s District 6 Office in Northern Kentucky.
The $8.5 million project – led by Philmor Contracting of Sharpsburg, Ky. – will eliminate the series of sharp and dangerous curves on Hands Pike that make the narrow road challenging to navigate as it meanders down the steep hill toward Ky. 17. The new western terminus for Hands Pike, also known as Ky. 1501, will extend just west of Crystal Lake and connect to Ky. 17 at the Ky. 3035 traffic light.
The bypassed section of Hands Pike from Wayman Branch Road to Ky. 17 will be designated as Ky. 3716. It will no longer be connected to Hands Pike, Wood said.
The new two-lane road will include a sidewalk along its entire length on its north side.
A 2008 Transportation study cited a number of problems along that section of Hands Pike that contributed to an unusually high vehicle crash rate: a steep hill (13 percent grade), four sharp curves, very narrow or non-existent shoulders, drainage problems, conflicting signage, and obstructions such as utility poles and mailboxes located right next to the road.
The realigned road will essentially address all of those concerns, and City officials said it can’t happen fast enough.
“Hands Pike has consistently been one of the most dangerous roads in the area, and our staff and the community have been working with District 6 for the past several years to ensure it was addressed,” City Commissioner Tim Downing said. “I'm thrilled that traveling in this area will become safer."
The realignment also will – potentially – set the table for future development opportunities on the eastern edge of the South Covington area.
The northern side of the current Hands Pike-Ky. 17 intersection is the home of a gas station and convenience store, a veterinarian office, and a small strip center with a half-dozen shops.
Further south on Ky. 17, the land on either side of the realigned road is vacant but privately owned.
When Transportation officials first announced the project, the owners of a large piece of property in the area had their property re-zoned to allow for commercial development. In the City’s Neighborhood Development Code, that zone is now called AUC – Auto Urban Commercial.
According to the code, the purpose of the AUC district is to provide a broad range of single-use and multi-tenant commercial centers that vary in scale and provide on-site surface parking predominately in front of the building. The zone permits a wide variety of building types and uses by right and allows others on a limited or conditional basis. Some of the permitted uses include medical facilities, offices, auto sales and repair, hotels, multi-family residential and a number of civic uses. Retail shops, banking and other services with drive-thru facilities must meet certain design standards and/or be approved by the City’s zoning board.
While acknowledging private ownership of the land, Covington Economic Development Director Tom West said realignment nevertheless could facilitate the kind of development that complements the surrounding area.
“As we continue our efforts to enhance the livability of our neighborhoods throughout the city, we see this as a great opportunity to provide the residents in this area with jobs and the high-quality services they need in a convenient location,” West said.
Downing, who lives in South Covington, said residents share that interest.
“I know that the community is anxious about what will go in that area after the roadway is finished,” he said. “While the land is privately owned, I'm hopeful that our staff can help draw in businesses that can help enhance the sense of community we have out in South Covington."
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