By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: March 2, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.
DINWIDDIE – In a month’s time, two crashes, one of which claimed the life of Dinwiddie High School student Dakota Reid, has drawn plenty of eyes to the intersection of New Cox and Courthouse Road, including those of local leaders, who asked the Virginia Department of Transportation to continue their detailed evaluation of the road.
During their regular meeting last week, the Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors requested that the transportation agency conduct a speed study be done along U.S. Route 460 near Route 627 in the county, a stretch of highway some see as dangerous given the speed of the roadway, 60 miles per hour, and the frequency of people trying to cross the roadway, particularly during the daytime hours, which is when a vast majority of crashes occur at the intersection, based on data from the state.
The request from supervisors comes nearly a week after nearly two dozen people, including the father of Dakota Reid, made their way to Eastside Enhancement Center to discuss the roadway during a transportation committee meeting, where members of the public safety community joined VDOT and county representatives for an open dialogue about what should be done to make the road safer and how it can be accomplished within the confines of VDOT’s policies and regulations.
To that end, in an effort to brief those who weren’t at that meeting, VDOT representative Scott Thornton reiterated the agency’s position on whether a traffic light should be installed in at the intersection to replace the flashing signals currently in place, saying it’s something the intersection doesn’t qualify for.
“We are doing another signal warrant analysis but prior to this one, we see that the volume isn’t there to support a traffic signal here,” he said, adding the light doesn’t remove the “conflict points” of the intersection and could also result in an increase in other types of car accidents, most notably, rear-end crashes.
“The traffic light doesn’t eliminate the conflict points and we do not want to go from unrestricted conflicts to rear-end crashes, like we see at Olgers Road and U.S. Route 460,” which, if traveling eastbound from the New Cox and Courthouse Road’s intersection, is the next closest full-function traffic light along the roadway.
Board Chairman William Chavis spoke to the concerns about having a traffic light at the intersection, sharing his own loss with the community.
“My boy was killed at a red light … they don’t always work,” he said. “My boy was making a left turn where you can yield and the guy saw him and thought he could beat him. They think they can make it and they can’t. They don’t think about the next person and the lives they are risking.”
During his discussion with supervisors, Thornton explained adjusting the speed along U.S. Route 460 likely wouldn’t only impact the area within a mile or so of the intersection, but “a large stretch of the corridor” and that a change likely would have to head to Richmond for final consideration. Currently, U.S. Route 460 from just west of Claiborne Road to the Dinwiddie/Nottoway County line is listed in state records as carrying a speed limit between 60 to 70 miles an hour, just over 20 miles of roadway as, according to VDOT officials, New Cox Road was designated a “limited access highway for the movement of commerce.”
The posted speed limit in the area of the intersection is 60 miles per hour, which VDOT representatives have stated is based on the 85th percentile of speeds traveled by drivers who use the roadway, noting if the speed is set too low, a large gap in speed ratios will develop as people drive the speed limit while others drive at a speed they feel is safe for the geometry of the roadway, thus increasing the risk for crashes.
“There is a feeling that the speed needs to be reduced in that area,” Dinwiddie County Administrator Kevin Massengill said during last week’s meeting. “I don’t think there will be a flaw in the road itself that could warrant the change,” with other supervisors agreeing that they understand the road itself was built in such a way to allow for goods to move quickly.
While road geometry plays a role in speed studies, Thornton did note other factors, such as traffic volume and historical crash data are also evaluated as part of the process. He added that it is the agency’s belief that the restricted crossing U-turn intersection is what the long-term future of the roadway holds following plans to install stop signs in the median to force drivers crossing New Cox Road from Courthouse Road to stop once at the approach then again at the median before proceeding.
In addition, pavement markings, rumble strips along the Courthouse Road approaches, and the installation of safe speed indicator signs advising drivers to travel through the intersection at 50 miles per hour, which will be mounted on currently existing intersection warning signs in the coming weeks.
Also known as an “R-Cut” intersection, the restricted crossing U-turn would serve to restrict 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. 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.
A concept image of what traffic flow through an R-Cut intersection configuration would look like at the intersection of New Cox Road and Courthouse Road. (Michael Campbell)
According to the agency’s presentation on the R-Cut intersection delivered to supervisors last week, a traditional “four-legged intersection” like New Cox and Courthouse Roads “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.”
Those findings were echoed by Thornton during his report to supervisors.
“The cars trying to go across Route 460, the speed they are traveling at, they are not typical of speeds that cars get up to if they had stopped at the original sign at the approach,” he said. “They are moving faster than if they stopped at the sign then accelerated. While a lot of traffic is stopping, there are a lot who are not.”
Funding is the great determinant of when the project could be developed, according to Thornton, with officials during the committee meeting saying they were in the process of looking at different funding sources to possibly pay for this project. He did say the project would likely be cheaper than the estimates floated during that meeting at Eastside.
“I know at that time we heard a figure of millions tossed out but, this could be done for under $200,000,” Thornton said, adding, “A traffic light would require a bunch of other things and actually would cost around $500,000 or more.”
He did say the project would likely not start before the end of the next school year in 2020.
Dinwiddie County leaders did praise the agency and its staff, namely Residency leaders Crystal Smith and Thornton for their prompt and expedited response to this intersection.
“You and Crystal have done a lot of work in 30 days,” Massengill said, noting that VDOT was in his office the same day as the fatal January crash to discuss what happened and work toward a solution, with the temporary action of new stop signs in the median, safe speed signage, and rumble strips being developed mere days after the crash.
“You hate to have any fatality in any place in Dinwiddie County,” Supervisor Mark Moore said, but the magnitude in which you have looked at the intersection and brought forward some temporary things, we thank you.”
It is unknown when the results of the speed study will be expected to be delivered to the board. As for the temporary improvements, officials said those should be going in over the course of the next few weeks, with pavement markings occurring closer to the spring as weather conditions warrant.