By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: February 11, 2020 | 1:30 p.m.
DINWIDDIE – County drivers will have their chance to give feedback on a proposal to reconfigure an intersection locals have called dangerous during a public hearing this month, where their words could determine the project’s future.
Roughly a year after officials with the Virginia Department of Transportation presented the concept of modifying the intersection of Courthouse Road and New Cox Road, the agency will return to present revisions to their plans for a modified median U-turn to the public during the evening session of the Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors meeting on February 18.
This public hearing, as previously stated by county officials and VDOT’s residency-level leadership, is being hosted by Dinwiddie to garner additional feedback on the MUT proposal before supervisors decide if they will permit VDOT to proceed with the project.
In October of last year, VDOT, according to residency administrator Crystal Smith, had completed their public hearing obligation for the project by holding an information session and comment submission period that ran through the end of that month.
This month’s meeting was requested by both supervisors and the county’s administrative team after residents were frustrated by how VDOT’s public information meeting last year at Eastside Enhancement Center went, with complaints about inadequate space and some not being able to see the project’s schematics in the meeting room being the prevailing theme.
“Part of the problem was the room was so small for an anticipated crowd of people so, when people tried to get to the stations, the overall room was so crowded, they couldn’t get to them and there was frustration because they couldn’t see the diagrams, so I think that was a problem,” then Board Vice-Chair Daniel Lee said during November’s VDOT report on the project.
Some residents said the room VDOT held their public information meeting inside Eastside Enhancement Center made seeing renderings of the proposed intersection difficult. (Michael Campbell)
This meeting will follow a traditional public hearing format, where VDOT is expected to present an updated version of the intersection’s design, then the floor would open for residents and supervisors to offer feedback for potentially deciding on allowing the project to proceed.
In November, VDOT residency administrator Scott Thornton presented a revised version of the MUT to county leaders and dozens of people, which will close the current median that links U.S. Route 460 to Courthouse Road, preventing left turn and through movement, and see two paved, U-turn paths installed on each end of New Cox Road.
In a variation from the renderings presented to the public in October, VDOT’s November design saw both directions of U.S. Route 460 reduced to one lane and just beyond the confines of the intersection to help traffic better navigate out of the U-turn paths and blend into the travel lanes of New Cox Road.
Additionally, Thornton said, through feedback garnered from truck drivers and other heavy commercial vehicle drivers, they adjusted each of the U-turn paths’ radiuses to better support large vehicles.
Even though VDOT’s Smith and Thornton said they “were comfortable” with the restricted crossing U-turn’s initial design presented during the summer of last year just before construction was halted to allow for additional comments on the project, Thornton said in November that the project is better now because of the comments received from the public.
According to VDOT’s Bethanie Glover, they received over 40 comments regarding the planned MUT project during the October 2019 submission period with, “Approximately 66 percent of the comments received were in support of an improvement project of some sort.” The remainder felt no changes were needed or increased law enforcement presence would be enough.
Among the questions regarding the design, many have asked about the implications of reducing New Cox Road to a single-lane roadway through the general vicinity of the intersection and if that will result in a speed limit reduction, currently 60 miles per hour.
While supervisors and county public safety leaders have each advocated for a drop in speed limit near the intersection, VDOT had argued on multiple occasions that a speed limit drop was not warranted, saying as such during a Spring 2019 board of supervisors meeting following the results of a requested speed study and in later interviews.
In December, it was revealed by VDOT that the latest design, which features the travel lane reduction, may help provide a speed limit reduction, likely only five miles per hour to 55, admitting they don’t believe a drop from 60 miles per hour will result in a significant drop in the corridor’s measured free-flowing speed, with 85 percent of cars traveling at a speed of 67 miles per hour in that area.
“We are still working with traffic engineering division to see if there is a possibility to have the speed reduced since we have really decided that we feel like dropping that median-inside lane and putting everyone in one lane of traffic, we are hoping they will reconsider a speed reduction in that location,” Smith remarked, saying, as of December 2019, she had not received any final guidance on that request from them.
Smith added, in response to comments from the community, including Sheriff D.T. Adams, VDOT would not be looking at implementing a speed limit drop without constructing the MUT. Before the close of 2019, the county’s sheriff said, if the agency were to drop the speed limit, his department would increase enforcement in the area.
“As far as VDOT looking at that as a standalone thing, there have been multiple studies done and the answer to that would be no,” she said in a December interview. “I think, from a residency and internal standpoint, we are trying to find some ways to justify a modification in the speed based on dropping the median-side lane and forcing all the traffic into the one lane,” adding that a similar project in Nottoway County saw a lower speed limit implemented alongside a lane drop.
The current in-median stop has presented challenges to trucker and drivers of other large vehicles as, when crossing U.S. Route 460 from Courthouse Road, the load of their vehicles can protrude back into the roadway behind them. It has resulted in some disregarding the median stop sign, thus breaking traffic laws. (Michael Campbell)
It is likely one of the county’s major industries will be represented at this month’s public hearing as Virginia Loggers Association Executive Director Ron Jenkins said some of their members in the county have expressed concerns about the proposed roadway and the roadway’s current configuration with required in-median stops, which can cause the load of trucks to extend back into U.S. Route 460 behind them.
“The ability to brake at the intersection, slow down, regain your speed that you now working into the lane with oncoming traffic that is probably traveling at a much higher rate and to move over to the far left lane, then braking again to make the U-turn puts the log truck or most heavy commercial trucks at a disadvantage, and our members feel that is less safe than trying to modify the intersection,” Jenkins said, adding, “We do not want to do things that will cause more safety problems than what we have now” while agreeing with residents, county leaders, and transportation officials that something needs to be done to make the intersection safer.
It will be ultimately up to the Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors to decide if they want to proceed with the project after voting to add it to their six-year road plan last year. During last November’s update from the transportation agency, County Administrator Massengill told county leaders they can opt to remove the intersection reconfiguration from their plan.
If the project were to be voted down by supervisors, since the deadly January 2019 crash that claimed the life of teenager Dakota Reid, VDOT has implemented what they called “temporary improvements,” which included larger stop signs, rumble strips, and advisory speed limits, along with stop signs in the median that require drivers to stop in the median before crossing U.S. Route 460.
According to county officials, the number of crashes at the intersection have dropped since that time.
Public hearings will be heard during the board of supervisors’ evening session on February 18 beginning at 7 p.m.
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