By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: July 28, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.
Work expected to begin sometime in August
DINWIDDIE – Weeks after getting the green light from county leaders, state transportation officials say they are nearly finished with the design of a new intersection configuration that seeks to make a Dinwiddie intersection some call dangerous a bit safer to navigate after a string of serious crashes.
According to representatives with the Virginia Department of Transportation, the design of a new restricted crossing U-turn intersection configuration, known as an R-CUT, at the intersection of U.S. Route 460 and Courthouse Road is almost completed, with the construction phase expected to get underway in early August, with the expectation the work would be completed before students return to class at nearby Dinwiddie High School in September.
This new intersection layout would serve to prevent a driver from crossing U.S. Route 460 via Courthouse Road, instead requiring drivers to head to a carved out U-turn section that would bring them to the opposite side of U.S. Route 460 and allow them to merge over and before continuing either north or southbound on Courthouse Road.
The current opening in the median where traffic travels through as of now would be reconfigured to allow only left turns from U.S. Route 460 to Courthouse Road. This would be done through the use of concrete curbing or other enhancements to guide drivers through the intersection.
Calls for action from the community came roughly six months ago after a series of wrecks left several people injured and killed a Dinwiddie High School student. In January, Dinwiddie teenager Dakota Reid died in a crash along the roadway after Honda Civic he was riding in was attempting to cross New Cox Road when it was struck by a Lexus traveling along U.S. Route 460. The impact caused both vehicles to spin, with the Civic striking a light pole on the passenger side.
The crash left four people injured and served as an example of the issues many local residents have with the crossing, with some calling the intersection dangerous when speaking to transportation officials.
Following the death of Reid, county leaders heard from the teenager’s family, along with a number of others during their monthly transportation meetings with VDOT and other transportation stakeholders who demanded something be done to the intersection to make it safer and end the recent spell of accidents, which, according to state data, that location has had nearly a dozen accidents since 2014 and three fatalities during that same time period.
In February, within days of Reid’s death, VDOT presented a preliminary concept for the intersection, which was the R-CUT intersection layout, which generally reduces the number of conflicts that currently exist in its present form as a standard, four-legged crossroad. According to VDOT, New Cox Road and Courthouse Road “has a total of “32 conflict points, including 16 crossing conflict points,” while the R-CUT has “18 conflicts and two crossing conflicts.”
With this information, it is estimated an R-Cut intersection could result in a 44 percent reduction in all crash types and a reduction of angle crashes “could be as high as 80 percent.”
“This intersection experienced a total of 13 crashes between December 1, 2013, and November 30, 2018, which includes 11 angle crashes,” the agency reported. “Three of these crashes were fatalities. [A] contributing cause to these angle crashes [was traffic] failed to yield to the right-of-way of Route 460 traffic while crossing [the] median from Route 627.”
VDOT also, through detailed explanation and an eventual study, demonstrated some suggested that had been provided by the community, namely a speed reduction or a traffic light, were not the best options for addressing the issues of the intersection. During springtime reports to the Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors, officials said the location did not meet any of the warrants for a traffic light to be installed, adding that a traffic light wouldn’t eliminate conflict points and could result in more rear-end crashes instead.
In addition, a speed reduction within the area of the intersection was found to not be warranted as, through their study, VDOT found the 85th percentile speed for that section of New Cox Road is 67 miles per hour, meaning 85 percent of all vehicles observed driving through the corridor under free-flowing conditions were found to be traveling that speed at the monitoring point during the study.
“Studies have shown that motorists tend to drive at the speed they perceive appropriate for the conditions of the roadway,” the agency explained. “When determining speed limits, engineers attempt to set a realistic limit that the majority of drivers will obey and that can be reasonably enforced.”
VDOT continued, “A primary consideration is the speed characteristics, particularly the prevailing (free-flowing) speed of vehicles on the roadway. Absent undue enforcement, posted speed limits that are set much lower than the prevailing speeds will not be obeyed by motorists.”
There was also concern of the risk to drivers as, if the speed were to be reduced, it would create situations where some drivers are traveling at that lowered speed while others may travel at the speed, as VDOT described, “they perceive appropriate for the conditions of the roadway,” thus creating additional opportunities for crashes while still not addressing the number of conflict points at the intersection.
With the R-CUT being added to the county’s six-year secondary road plan earlier this year, both Dinwiddie County and the state transportation agency worked together to identify funding to help fast-track the project and, according to County Administrator Kevin Massengill, state-level safety dollars that had been provided to cover improvements to the intersection of Ritchie Avenue and U.S. Route 1 were shifted to cover this project, as it was seen as a priority.
“What the taxpayer at home should know is the Board putting a greater priority on the projects now, with the acquiesce of VDOT, [we] will have Courthouse Road R-CUT begin much sooner than it would have been,” Massengill told The Dinwiddie Monitor in June, with the hope of having the roughly $300,000 project done by the end of summer before students return to class and buses return to the county roadways in full force.
In the meantime, temporary improvements were installed at the intersection, with larger stop signs and a new layout requiring drivers to stop in the median between U.S. Route 460 before proceeding across the roadway.
Regarding Ritchie Avenue and U.S. Route 1, its improvements, which will include new signals and a new left turn lane to guide drivers toward the Taco Bell restaurant and nearby neighborhood, will now take place sometime during the fall.