By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: February 20, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.
DINWIDDIE – After several years of accidents, some fatal, at the intersection of New Cox Road and Courthouse Road, residents believe enough is enough and are asking the Virginia Department of Transportation to do something before someone else is injured or killed at the busy crossroad.
Nearly two dozen people attended a special commission meeting at Eastside Enhancement Center in Dinwiddie County last Thursday afternoon, where members of county leadership, along with the county’s fire, EMS, and law enforcement arms were joined by members of Virginia State Police and VDOT for a discussion of Dinwiddie transportation matters, with nearly an hour of the meeting dedicated to the intersection of New Cox and Courthouse Road and what can be done to make the intersection safer for those traveling it, this after a fatal accident claimed the life of Dakota Reid, a Dinwiddie High School student and McKenney resident, and left four others injured, and a second crash days prior to last week’s commission meeting.
Last week’s gathering was less of a formal meeting where members of the general public could only listen to the conversations being had by the members of the commission and more of an open dialogue between the community and VDOT, represented by residency leadership members Scott Thornton and Crystal Smith, moderated by Dinwiddie County Administrator Kevin Massengill, who walked through the intersection’s history and how VDOT has been engaged with the county on making it safer despite the continued accidents.
“When you look at this particular intersection, we have been talking about this for the last few years,” he explained. “They have increased the stop sign size and cut the bank back. The notable change is the flashing light there and even with those, we are still seeing us having accidents here.”
The flashing signals were the result of a mid-to-late 2000s traffic study that saw the signals installed to warn drivers on both approaches at New Cox Road and Courthouse of the upcoming intersection, Bob Spieldenner of VDOT told The Dinwiddie Monitor in an interview earlier this month, with the bank being cut back to allow for better sight lines for drivers.
Dinwiddie supervisors, residents, and John Reid, the father of Dakota Reid, who died in a crash at the intersection last month listen to County Administrator Kevin Massengill talk about proposals for remedying crashes at New Cox and Courthouse Roads. (Michael Campbell)
With the intersection serving as the location for three fatal crashes and nine total accidents since 2014, according to state data, the question of traffic signalization of the intersection or a speed reduction in the area was floated by residents leading into last week’s meeting, two ideas that continue to be declined by VDOT due to specific metrics not being present at the intersection to warrant the action.
Speaking specifically to traffic signals, Thornton with VDOT told residents at last week’s committee meeting that the intersection doesn’t meet the criteria for a signal, adding it is their belief a signal at the intersection would create more accidents.
VDOT’s FAQ section regarding traffic signals spoke to this concern, noting they follow “federal guidelines that establish minimum conditions under which a signal installation should be considered,” which include many of the things the transportation does review as part of their signal study process, like traffic data, vehicle speeds, interviews with local police and jurisdiction officials, to name a few, and they are not a cure-all for an intersection that has a history of crashes as the risk of rear-end crashes being higher at a signalized intersection, while not completely eliminating the “T-bone” crashes that are occurring there.
“We want to try and improve the intersection, not move to a different type of crash,” Thornton explained as he walked through a presentation about the intersection.
Regarding speed drops, Smith said there are currently no plans for a speed reduction in the area of the intersection. According to state records and signage in the area, from just west of Sutherland to the Dinwiddie-Nottoway line, the speed limit along New Cox Road is 60 miles per hour, with Smith noting the state government designated that stretch of road as a “limited access highway for the movement of commerce” to limit the number of stops and impacts to movement in that area.
In addition, Smith explained people generally “drive at the speed that they feel is safe for the geometry of the road” and setting a speed limit lower than what the 85th percentile of drivers would travel could result in crashes as some drivers would travel the speed limit and others would travel at the speed they feel is appropriate for the roadway.
To that end, the agency did announce some temporary solutions to try and address the issues with crashes at the intersection, with plans to add a stop sign within the median of New Cox Road to require drivers to stop midway through their crossing of New Cox Road to give them a better look at traffic approaching.
They also have plans to add rumble strips to Courthouse Road to alert drivers to be more aware as they approach the intersection.
In the long-term, VDOT envisions an intersection where drivers crossing New Cox Road from Courthouse Road never have to drive directly across the roadway to get to the other side, instead utilizing an “R-Cut” intersection where a driver wishing to travel across New Cox Road to the other side of Courthouse Road would turn right then proceed to a newly created far-left lane and perform a U-turn in a new portion of roadway, proceed with traffic and then turn right onto Courthouse Road, with officials showing residents the intersection in action in South Carolina.
An example of an restricted U-turn, or R-Cut intersection, a long-term idea proposed by VDOT for New Cox and Courthouse Road. If a driver at point 1 (Courthouse Road) wanted to cross the roadway, they would have to drive to point two, make a U-turn, then proceed in the far right lane to return to Courthouse Road, point 3a or they would stay left to go along U.S. Route 460, point 3b (Wisconsin Department of Transportation)
For those in attendance for last week’s meeting, the consensus was something needed to be done, but the methods featured a variety of ideas and concepts.
“What you have here is, you are putting it in the hands of the other drivers if they obey the traffic law,” John Reid, the father of Dakota Reid said to VDOT and the committee. “I know you say it’s not feasible but, if they can do it other places, it can be done here.”
He continued, speaking about the idea of the R-Cut intersection over a signal, “It’s really not rocket science. The poles and power are there. I am not seeing why we need this big changeover and expense to taxpayers when you could just put in a traffic light and some turning lanes. They have had lots of accidents along U.S. Route 460 in Prince George and they reduced speed there.”
“It doesn’t control traffic,” Smith said in response. “We know people run lights and our goal is to eliminate the possibility of t-bone accidents at that intersection,” adding, “Even if we agreed to install traffic lights, that would be a temporary solution. You have situations where people could sit there and no one is coming the other way and they run the lights. Our goal is stopping this from happening.”
Sheriff D.T. Adams, who has also been struck by a car in that intersection over a decade ago, said he was in favor of a resident’s idea of having increased patrols in the area during school hours.
“I don’t mind putting a deputy there as much as I can,” he said. “I think the stop sign can help. They will have to stop. If they put them up, I can put a deputy there and we will ticket them if they run the stop sign,” noting the idea of a traffic light there doesn’t seem like the right solution.
“A traffic light there scares me,” Adams continued. “If I am stopped at a light there and a truck is coming down the road and the driver is distracted and hits me … I think flashing lights and lowering the speed down to 45 miles per hour to let them know the intersection is coming is a good solution.”
Others suggested “dangerous intersection” signage and even having flashing signals similar to those in a school zone for the intersection since the intersection is a primary route for many to get to Dinwiddie High School and Dinwiddie Middle School nearby, many of which Smith and her staff said they would look into.
John Reid, the father of Dakota Reid, a Dinwiddie teenager who died in a crash at the intersection of New Cox and Courthouse Roads talks with VDOT Residency Administrator Crystal Smith at last week’s meeting. (Michael Campbell)
For John Reid, his efforts were centered on preventing another family from experiencing the loss his family suffered that January day.
“I understand some of the scenarios they are discussing, like it being hard to put a red light there but, my theory is, if they slow people down, the red light would be beneficial,” he said. “It can be done, but they just have to come up with the plans. With the sun rising and setting, there’s a two-hour period where you can’t see either way.”
“You’re depending on the other drivers as to whether they are going to abide by the traffic laws,” Reid continues. Traffic light, yes, you might have one or two who try to run the light but, that’s a needle in a haystack. Most likely, people are going to abide by the laws. Even still, if they drop the speed limit to 45, then down to 35 right at the light … no life is worth, adult, child, or senior citizen, the risk.”
VDOT is expected to make more recommendations this week during the Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors regular meeting. Plans for the R-Cut intersection remain preliminary and funding would need to be identified in order to move forward with what the agency sees as a long-term solution.