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Omni Hotel Developers Want a Two-Way Third Street—and They're Not Alone

The Omni Hotel development is expected to reshape Louisville's skyline and streetscape—and it may also change how residents get around downtown.

The developers of the $300-million project want the one-way Third Street converted to two-ways, in part to accommodate valet drivers of the development's planned hotel and apartments.

But the idea of a two-way Third Street isn't Omni's alone.

The Omni project will be developed on a block bound by Third, Second and Liberty streets and Muhammad Ali Boulevard, pending approval from a couple city committees.

City officials and developers are hashing out a final plan for the project. Earlier thisweek, an overlay committee tasked with reviewing downtown developments pushed back voting on the plan for another two weeks after some residents shared their concerns about the current plan.

Third Street was one of the issues brought up. Omni representatives say allowing traffic to flow both north and south on Third Street will help valet drivers be more efficient and safe when parking and dropping off vehicles, as they then wouldn't be required to cross Second Street—which is a two-way road. The conversion could also help delivery drivers more easily access the building's loading dock, which likely will be located on the Third Street side of the development.

Louisville Metro officials say converting the one-way street to a two ways is feasible and desirable, despite the findings of a 2009 study commissioned by the Downtown Development Corporation that said conversion would likely not be workable.

"The 2009 study was a more conservative look at going two way," said Rebecca Matheny, executive director of the Louisville Downtown Partnership.

Since that study,  theories regarding "complete streets" have evolved and the city has had "wildly successful road diets," Matheny said.  Today, city officials are more comfortable with carrying out a one-way to two-way conversion on the street.

Omni is hardly the first entity to push Third Street to be two ways, she said.

In fact, city officials have been looking at converting a handful of downtown streets to two ways.

"Two-way streets are profoundly important to retail and they're really important to functionality," she said.

Portions of Jefferson, Liberty, Chestnut, Shelby, Campbell, Main, Eighth, Seventh and Third streets are all being considered for conversion, Matheny said. But there are some serious challenges. Extensive studies need to be conducted to evaluate the costs and traffic impacts of converting current one-way streets to two ways, Matheny said.

Also, there are concerns about changing traffic patterns while the Ohio River Bridges Project is creative traffic issues downtown, she said.

Plus, Third Street is state road, which requires a bit more in depth examination than locally managed roadways and could potential slow the process, she said.

Another barrier is that the downtown street grid is designed for one-way streets and many entrances to interstates rest on the left-hand side of the road.

"It's a complex system," Matheny said.

Adding to the complexity is the fact that the federal funds allocated to Louisville Metro to conduct the street conversions doesn't cover the entire scope of streets considered best candidates for a two-way transformation, said Dirk Gowin, a project coordinator with the city's public works department.

The city has been approved to spend about $825,000 in mostly federal money on a two-way street conversions across downtown, including a transformation of Third Street from Main Street south to Market Street, according to a report from the Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency.

But the Omni development is south of Market Street, and Matheny said the idea is to transform Third Street from one way to two way from Main Street to Broadway.

Gowin said that's what planners are aiming to do, but there is a "substantial amount of work" that needs to be done in a short amount of time in order to do it. The Omni developers hope to have the project complete by 2018.

"We haven't had any studies, we don't know what the typical section would look like," he said.

More funds will likely need to be generated before officials can tackle a transformation of Third Street north of Broadway, he said.

Gowin called the street a "dangling one-way," which means it has no sister street than runs one way in the other direction. Second Street was that street, until it was made two ways a while back. Fourth Street is also two ways, and is interrupted at Muhammad Ali by Fourth Street Live.

Conversion efforts on many of the streets will likely begin next year, Gowin said.

As for Third Street, neither Gowin and Matheny speculated on when that conversion will be or how much it might cost.

"It could take a little more time," Matheny said. "But I would be thrilled to see it happen."

Gowin said he'd like to see it converted along with the other downtown streets, but added "the funding has not been identified."

"So we've got a lot to do."

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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