By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: June 30, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.
DINWIDDIE – Plans to reconfigure a busy county intersection in an effort to reduce the number of crashes at the location continue to progress quickly as, following action by supervisors last week, transportation crews have the green light to start their work at one of the county’s more problematic intersections.
According to county officials, the Virginia Department of Transportation will likely begin their work at the intersection of Courthouse Road and U.S. Route 460 within the next 30 days, which will consist of a complete reconfiguration of the intersection from its current form to a restricted crossing U-turn intersection, known as an R-CUT for short.
The move comes roughly six months after a series of crashes left one man dead, several others injured, and resulted in thousands of dollars in property damage. 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.
According to data provided by the state’s traffic records system, the intersection of Courthouse and New Cox Road, since 2014 has had nearly a dozen accidents recording in the immediate vicinity of the intersection. Of those, at least six reported some form of injury and three people lost their lives.
Following the death of Reid, the community pressed county leaders and VDOT to take some form of action to address the intersection, resulting in the R-CUT intersection configuration slated to be installed over the summer to reduce the number of conflict points as drivers cross U.S. Route 460 by restricting left turn and through movement from Courthouse Road by requiring all traffic approaching from north and southbound 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 roughly 600 feet away from the intersection.
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.
According to transportation officials, the new R-CUT intersection would dramatically reduce the number of conflicts that currently exist at the four-legged intersection of Courthouse and New Cox Road as the current configuration “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.”
While it is normal for transportation projects of this scale to take some time to be designed and funded before construction can begin, this reconfiguration moved through the state agency’s pipeline quickly, with a design being presented and approved by county leaders, the project being added their six-year secondary road plan, and funding being immediately identified and made available to get the project underway.
In an interview, County Administrator Kevin Massengill confirmed the funding for the R-CUT came from state safety dollars that had been assigned to a project along Ritchie Avenue that was slated to begin this month, featuring their own intersection and traffic signal improvements. He added it was the belief of the county that U.S. Route 460 was a priority project as they shifted the funds from Ritchie Avenue to New Cox and Courthouse Roads.
“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 detailed last week. “Best case scenario, we would have looked at probably the end of the summer, but now we are going to be looking at having it completed by [the start of the upcoming school year]. School just let out last week, our reaffirming it tonight, and hopefully to start it in the next 30 days and hope to complete before the next school year.”
Following the deadly crash in January, VDOT and the county have been in constant communication about this and other projects within Dinwiddie’s borders about this project, a fact Chairman William Chavis, who also serves on the county’s transportation and safety committee, confirmed following their decision to give U.S. Route 460 a higher priority in the county’s secondary road plan.
“It was a lot of communication with VDOT behind closed doors and in open session so it has been all of us working together on this,” he said. “We have some good people at VDOT along with Kevin tying things together has helped this move smoothly. We have been losing some good people so I hope this can be a solution to this.”
In Chavis and Massengill’s eyes, one of the most powerful drivers of this project gaining the momentum it needed to become a top-priority project for VDOT in the county as the community forum held at Eastside Enhancement Center immediately following the death of Reid, calling it an eye opening experience for both the county and VDOT.
“For many cases, these are members of our community, as well, so it is not just a professional thing, it is personal for us,” Massengill said of their efforts to make the intersection safer over the last few months. “We have had people in our planning department, our fire, EMS and law enforcement departments, our safety committee, which hosted, what I thought was, a phenomenal meeting at Eastside where we talked but, most importantly, we listened to the community and many of the things that the community had questions about, VDOT looked into and either agreed with them and include it in the design or they didn’t agree and they justified it and showed why it couldn’t be done [based on] engineering principles.”
Throughout that meeting in February, VDOT residency leaders Crystal Smith and Scott Thornton spoke directly to residents and answered their questions regarding the feasibility of a traffic light being installed at the intersection or reducing the speed limit in the area of the intersection. The agency also performed traffic studies at the request of the board on both of those topics, finding the intersection did not meet any of the state and federal criteria to warrant a full traffic light installation nor did the corridor meet the requirements to allow for a reduction in its current speed limit of 60 miles per hour.
While Dinwiddie High School students were away on Spring Break in April, VDOT did install a series of, what they called, temporary improvements at the intersection to adjust how drivers travel through the intersection.
Drivers seeking to move across New Cox Road now have to come to a complete stop at newly installed stop signs in the median of the roadway, which features new markings to denote the required stop for drivers. In the eyes of VDOT, requiring drivers to make that stop in the median will allow drivers to be able to properly judge traffic and safely navigate the intersection.
In addition, rumble strips were installed to alert drivers to the upcoming intersection, along with warning signage and a safe speed recommendation of 50 miles per hour posted under those new signs along U.S. Route 460.
All of these items were implemented as VDOT worked behind the scenes with their engineering teams to design the R-CUT intersection, which they believe is the right option for the location. According to transportation officials, the project is expected to cost roughly $300,000.
“From VDOT’s perspective, this eliminates quite a few conflict points that you had at the intersection we have now,” Massengill said. “This, while still having conflict points, but far less and the nature of those accidents will hopefully be less severe than what we have seen in the past few accidents we have had out there.”
The county administrator praised the state agency for its promptness and level of urgency in working with Dinwiddie to get this safety concerned address for local drivers.
“After one horrific accident, us immediately getting with VDOT and all these disciplines coming together and to do it in such a way that we can get fully funded to get it started now, it shows the importance of communication,” Massengill closed.
As for Ritchie Avenue, Massengill said that intersection will still receive its improvements, which will include a left turn lane toward the Taco Bell restaurant and signal enhancements, sometime in the fall of this year.