by Bill Mardis
How often have you idled at traffic lights in Somerset and said unmentionables about the inventor of such time-killing devices while your SUV burns $4-a-gallon gasoline?
You’re not alone. Drivers have been frustrated with stop-and-go lights in Somerset for the past 67 years. Motorists didn’t like to stop when gasoline was 17 cents a gallon. And they didn’t even have smart phones.
It all started in April 1947 when Kentucky Utilities Company and the State Highway Department installed lights at six intersections in Somerset. These, as far as we can tell, were Somerset’s first traffic lights.
The very first traffic lights (or light; it was probably a single, three-light fixture hung from the center) were installed at the intersection of East Mt. Vernon Street and Central Avenue. The second, a few days later, was at East Mt. Vernon and Maple streets. Other lights were installed at Main and Columbia streets and Main and Market streets. Flashing caution signals were installed at Mt. Vernon and Oak streets and Mt. Vernon and Vine streets.
A news article, under the headline, PEDESTRIANS HAVE NEARLY AN EVEN CHANCE, published in the April 17, 1947, edition of The Somerset Journal, gave indication the writer (newspapers didn’t give bylines in those days) was as skeptical as were motorists of the stop-and-go signals.
He (there were few female journalists in that day) suggested “ ... for the six traffic lights we are all supposed to face north and bow in the general direction of Frankfort, for it is from the bounty of the State Highway Department that the traffic lights, a long overdue and negligible return from taxes collected by the administration from this city, were purchased ... ”
Simeon S. Willis, a Republican, was governor of Kentucky at the time. The Somerset Journal, a newspaper of Democratic persuasion, rarely gave the GOP a favorable nod.
Editors and reporters in those days openly editorialized in news copy. Of course, reporters of today are often accused of inserting their thoughts in the news.
Pedestrians were generally enthusiastic about Somerset’s new traffic lights, but motorists were caustic, according to the 1947 news article.
One motorist said “ ... it’s almost like putting a closed season on pedestrians.”
Another: “The lights give a pedestrian more time to take off before being brought down.”
A good old boy remarked: “Ain’t no traffic laws in this county I ever paid no attention to anyway.”
Back to the future, have you ever been in a hurry and wondered how many traffic lights have been installed in this county since 1947?
Amanda Parmley, transportation engineer for the Kentucky Department of Highways’ District 8, has the answer.
“There are a total of 62,” Parmley said. Sixty-one are maintained by the Department of Highways and one, at South Central and Cotter avenues, is maintained by the City of Somerset.
Thirty of the signaled intersections on U.S. 27 are between Ky. 2227 (KIA dealership) north of Somerset south to Somerset Boat Dock Road.