Planned RCUT construction delayed as more public input sought

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: September 17, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.

VDOT expected to host meeting at Eastside Center next month

DINWIDDIE – The timetable for construction of a restricted crossing U-turn intersection at one of Dinwiddie County’s problem crossroads seems to be up in the air after state transportation officials said they plan to garner additional public input on the planned project.

In a statement last week, Virginia Department of Transportation spokesperson Bethanie Glover said the agency is “planning additional public outreach for the proposed modified RCUT” at the intersection of Courthouse Road and U.S. Route 460, which has been the site of several serious crashes over the last few years, including one this year that injured several people and claimed the life of Dinwiddie High School student Dakota Reid.

“Safety remains VDOT’s highest priority, and we want to make sure the public is engaged before next steps are taken,” she remarked, adding, “A public meeting will be held to collect feedback and give the public an opportunity to discuss the project with VDOT team members.” County officials said they have offered the agency space at Eastside Enhancement Center on Boydton Plank Road for them to host their public information meeting on the project on October 17.

The expected public information meeting in Dinwiddie County would be the first VDOT-hosted meeting on the project since its conception this year, not including updates during the agency’s monthly report to county supervisors or the February 2019 transportation committee meeting where the idea for the RCUT was presented alongside information detailing the pros and cons of speed reductions and traffic light installations.

Since the deadly crash earlier this year, residents have expressed concerns about the safety of the intersection, urging county leaders to press state transportation officials to do something to remedy what many feel is a dangerous crossroad.

Within days of the crash, during a local transportation commission meeting in February, the topic of the crossroad headlined the agenda, with VDOT using their time with Dinwiddie representatives, public safety leaders, and several community members, including John Reid, the father of Dakota, to present the concept of a RCUT intersection, which, if implemented, would restrict left turn and through movement from Courthouse Road by requiring all traffic approaching from the north and south on Route 627 to make a right turn followed by a U-turn along U.S. Route 460 at one of two locations, one for each direction of travel.

With this configuration, left turns from either direction of U.S. Route 460 onto Courthouse Road would be allowed through the installation of concrete curbing to separate turning traffic in either direction in the median area.

The concept presented during the February meeting showed an implemented RCUT in South Carolina as a visual of how the intersection would look in comparison to the four-legged intersection currently in place.

During that meeting and in subsequent reports to the county during Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors meetings, the agency’s representatives at the residency level, Crystal Smith and Scott Thornton reiterated the results of various studies conducted at the request of county leaders that found no grounds to lower the speed limit along U.S. Route 460 from its current 60 miles per hour threshold in the vicinity of the intersection or to install a traffic light at the location.

February was the first time VDOT presented the idea of the restricted crossing U-turn, or RCUT intersection at Courthouse Road and U.S. Route 460. The meeting, which was a local transportation commission meeting, saw John Reid, the father of a teen killed at the intersection, and others talk to VDOT representatives about their concerns at the intersection. (Michael Campbell)

It was during those reports where VDOT representatives also showed a mock-up of how traffic would flow through the intersection once the RCUT is constructed, with a graphic provided by the agency to the county explaining the U-turn would be installed roughly 750 feet away from the intersection on either side to allow for those traffic motions, and would allow for left turns from U.S. Route 460 to Courthouse Road.

As residents and county officials alike sought to address the issues at the intersection as swiftly as possible, VDOT explained to supervisors through the spring that they would look at funding sources to determine what dollars could be used to fund the project in such a way that could allow for work to start sooner than later. While that research was done, VDOT also implemented some “temporary” improvements, including larger stop signs, new markings that require drivers to stop in the median before crossing U.S. Route 460 to allow for more time to adequately judge distances, and rumble strips to alert drivers of the approaching intersection.

During the spring, VDOT’s Thornton told county leaders that the agency was reviewing two concepts for the RCUT, a traditional RCUT layout as presented in February, and a modified version that would close the current turn lanes and require drivers to travel through the U-turn path and make a right turn onto Courthouse Road, effectively closing the opening in the median at the intersection.

In May, supervisors voted to adopt their six-year road plan with the addition of the New Cox Road intersection improvement project, with a price tag of $310,000. The following month, transportation officials told the county development on the new intersection would likely begin in late July to early August, with an expected completion well before school resumed after Labor Day, with the project being funded by state safety dollars that had been shifted from a planned project at Ritchie Avenue, where signal work and a new turn lane were slated to be installed.

As August approached, VDOT sought to address concerns raised by drivers and residents in the county by detailing their plans for the roadway, with officials saying in an August interview that the intersection would indeed be developed into a “modified RCUT” intersection, which would eliminate any left turns from U.S. Route 460 to Courthouse Road, with an estimated cost of $287,000, while reiterating that the RCUT is the best option for the stretch of road in terms of safety.

In addition, the timetable for construction shifted from starting in early August with a completion before schools in Dinwiddie reopened to work starting later that month and running for “approximately four weeks.” Since that time, equipment and signage that had been staged in the area likely for the construction project has largely been removed, hinting at a delay.

With VDOT expected to hold a meeting in October per county officials who are providing the gathering space, questions have been raised by locals about the status of the project and if it will indeed be completed in 2019 as the agency’s paving season typically concludes in November, and remains on hiatus until April, weather depending.

While the imagery provided by VDOT last month shows what a traditional restricted crossing U-turn, RCUT for short, looks like, officials confirm they will be implementing a “modified RCUT” at Courthouse Road and U.S. Route 460, which “will eliminate all left turn movements.” Signs will be posted at all approaches to guide drivers through the intersection. (Virginia Department of Transportation)

In an interview, County Administrator Kevin Massengill explained the county and supervisors rely on the expertise of VDOT’s traffic engineers to help guide the decisions they make, particularly when it comes to driver safety.

“The board of supervisors takes very seriously the experts on highway safety and when the transportation engineers make these recommendations, the board acted accordingly and swiftly as they could to ensure that this project could, from a local standpoint, have the approvals that it needed to move forward,” he detailed. “We recognize that the citizens need some kind of improvements out here and they seem to be working some,” he said, while noting there have been reports of drivers still disregarding the stop signs installed at the intersection.

“The traffic patterns needs to be adhered to like at any other intersection,” Massengill said.

With construction not moving forward currently as the agency plans for an October public meeting, the county administrator shared his thoughts on the project’s recent delays.

“On the one hand, these are Dinwiddie citizens having questions, so part of me does feel good that VDOT is taking a step back to evaluate it and answer questions that people in our community may have,” he said. “The other part is that I hope the agency is able to swiftly respond and go through their processes so this improvement can be made because people may question what is to happen there, but most people who travel through that intersection feel something needs to be done. We know this is one of the more problematic intersections that we have in this community.”

He added the Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors remains resolute in their position that a speed drop along U.S. Route 460 is needed in the area of the intersection, a position they have had since a speed study found a reduction was not warranted.

“The board unanimously feels that an average motorist speed of 67 miles per hour at that intersection is not ideal,” Massengll remarked. “We feel like people need to slow down going through that intersection.”

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