Temporary improvements installed at dangerous county intersection

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: April 28, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.

VDOT: Local leaders expect to pick permanent fix option in May

DINWIDDIE – Nearly four months after a series of crashes left one man dead, several others injured, and resulted in thousands of dollars in property damage, state transportation crews have implemented what they call “temporary” improvements to help quell issues at a busy county intersection while a more transformative and permanent option is designed.

During their monthly report to the Dinwiddie County Board of Supervisors, the Virginia Department of Transportation confirmed last week they have fully rolled out their series of improvements at the intersection of New Cox and Courthouse Road, including new signage and markings, which was done in response to concerns from county leaders and residents alike following a deadly crash at that intersection at the start of the year.

On January 22, 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. 

According to Virginia State Police, none of the occupants in either vehicle were believed to have been wearing their safety belts at the time of the crash, which left four people hospitalized and a family mourning the death of their child. 

State crash records from the early part of the year show, since 2014, there have been nine accidents at the intersection. Of those reported crashes, six of them resulted in some form of injury to the occupants involved and three fatalities.

Since the January crash, residents and county residents pressed VDOT officials to reevaluate the intersection to determine if more needs to be done to address what many see as one of the county’s more dangerous crossings for drivers. 

New Cox Road and Courthouse Road (Google Earth)

It was revealed at a transportation committee meeting and through later traffic studies that two suggestions from the community, a speed reduction or a traffic light, were not permitted for the corridor. Regarding speed, it was revealed through that the vast majority of drivers traveled along U.S. Route 460 at the intersection at 67 miles per hour, seven over the current posted speed limit of 60 miles per hour during the study period. The rationale for not lowering the speed limit centers on the issues that can develop when lowering the speed limit below that 85th percentile speed that the vast majority of drivers travel at which, if done, could result in a larger speed ratio where drivers travel at the lowered posted speed limit while others opt to travel at the speed they believe is safe for the road conditions, essentially disregarding the speed limit. 

“Studies have shown that motorists tend to drive at the speed they perceive appropriate for the conditions of the roadway,” the agency explained. “When determining speed limits, engineers attempt to set a realistic limit that the majority of drivers will obey and that can be reasonably enforced.”

VDOT continued, “A primary consideration is the speed characteristics, particularly the prevailing (free-flowing) speed, of vehicles on the roadway. Absent undue enforcement, posted speed limits that are set much lower than the prevailing speeds will not be obeyed by motorists.”

A traffic light was also ruled out during a March study as, according to VDOT Residency Administrator Scott Thornton, the intersection failed to meet all of the thresholds that would allow for a fully signalized intersection to be constructed. Currently, a flashing signal is installed, which was put in during the 2000s in response to safety concerns at the time. 

VDOT did offer a series of temporary fixes and a permanent improvement in the weeks after the fatal crash, with those temporary improvements featuring an adjustment to how drivers travel through the intersection.

Now, drivers seeking to move across New Cox Road will have to come to a complete stop at a newly installed stop sign 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. 

Throughout the design of these improvements, VDOT stressed these are temporary solutions as they continue to develop and craft a long-term transformation to that portion of New Cox and Courthouse Road, centered around a unique intersection configuration known as a restricted U-turn, or R-CUT intersection. 

According to Thornton, they are evaluating two options for the R-CUT configuration, one version that would keep the current turn lanes, allowing for left turns from New Cox Road onto Courthouse Road from either direction.

The second concept would close the current turn lanes and require drivers to travel through a new path that would allow drivers on New Cox Road to make a safe U-turn, then turn right onto Courthouse Road. 

In general, traffic engineers say restricted crossing U-turn intersections are safer as it greatly reduces the number of conflict points present in a traditional intersection configuration, a point made by Thornton in late February when asked about installing a traffic signal at the intersection.

“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.

According to VDOT spokesperson Bethanie Glover, the agency said the Restricted Crossing U-Turn would cost an estimated $314,000 while the R-CUT with a closed median would cost roughly $287,000, with their recommendation being the latter option.

“The Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors is expected to be taking action at their next meeting in May,” Glover said.

With the temporary improvements in place, a firm timetable for the R-CUT’s construction hasn’t been revealed but, VDOT officials said it would likely not start prior to the end of the next school year in 2020. 

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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