U.S. 460 improvement refined following public comments

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: November 27, 2019 | 1:45 p.m. 

VDOT, county hopeful to engage in further community dialogue during winter

DINWIDDIE – The Virginia Department of Transportation has made further adjustment to a proposed reconfiguration of the intersection of U.S. Route 460 and Courthouse Road following feedback from residents during last month’s public information meeting and comment submission period, with officials touting the changes as an improvement over what has previously been shown to the public.

Last week, VDOT Residency Administrator Scott Thornton presented an updated aerial diagram of the proposed modified median u-turn to be installed at the intersection of New Cox and Courthouse Road, the site of several serious accidents, including a deadly crash that claimed the life of Dakota Reid, a Dinwiddie High School student in January.

In the new design, U.S. Route 460 would be reduced from two lanes in either direction to a single travel lane roughly 820 feet in either direction of the proposed u-turns through intersection and resume its two-lane configuration 500 feet beyond the u-turn location as drivers depart the crossroads. According to Thornton, this lane reduction came about through comments from residents.

“One of the comments that we heard at the public meeting, as well in the written and mailed-in comments was ‘what about slow-moving vehicles,’ ‘I already have to cross so much real estate in traffic, how do I get across this lane with traffic running up on us at 67 miles per hour,’” he remarked, explaining this lane drop would “let traffic pull out [from Courthouse Road], get into that side lane as, at that point, they are only cross about 12 feet of open real estate. That will allow them to get up to speed and go ahead and make the u-turn movement.”

In addition, Thornton said, based on responses from those who handle heavy equipment, such as farmers, loggers, and bus drivers, adjustments were made to both of the median u-turn locations through “increasing the radius and amount of pavement being put in so, that will accommodate larger vehicles.”

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Images: Virginia Department of Transportation

“With us dropping that lane,” Thornton said, referring to reducing U.S. Route 460 to a single, 60 mile-per-hour in the area of Courthouse Road as part of the MUT, “you’re going to have 820 feet both ways, which is the design recommendation for site distance on that road. The taper is going to start 1,000 feet before that so really, at 1,800 feet before you get to this intersection, we are going to taper traffic down into that right lane.”

“When you come out of that u-turn, you can use that yellow-striped area to pull in, get up to speed and you won’t have to worry about traffic coming in behind you. You can go ahead, make the merge movement and come in,” he remarked.

Thornton also told supervisors and residents they plan to widen the radius of Courthouse Road to support the expected increase in right-turn traffic through the implementation of this proposal.

“That should help us with those turning vehicles,” he said. “I know now, even without it, we would be seeing quite a few potholes so, this will give folks more pavement to use when they come through.”

With a near-capacity audience, Thornton reiterated that this kind of intersection has been found to reduce crashes by nearly a third, citing studies from the Federal Highway Administration. Additionally, research found fatal and injury crashes, along with angle crashes are reduced by 58 and 86 percent, respectively, with many other crashes changing “from highly severe incidents to sideswipe and rear-end crashes.”

“Those are your property damage crashes and folks are still walking away from those,” Thornton said of sideswipe and rear-end crashes referred to in his report, while also noting there are nearly a dozen similar restricted crossing u-turn intersections in development in the state and three that are open to traffic, with seven others being prepared for submission under the state’s SmartScale transportation funding program.

As of August, one of those RCUTs that is currently being constructed is in Chesterfield County along Route 10 at Old Bermuda Hundred Road.

Thornton reiterated remarks from VDOT spokesperson Bethanie Glover who spoke to The Dinwiddie Monitor earlier this month and confirmed the agency had received just over 40 responses on the project during October’s public comments period, with roughly two-thirds of respondents wanting to see some form of improvement, be it the MUT, a traffic signal, speed reduction along U.S. Route 460, other other remedy. The remaining 34 percent, according to VDOT “did not want to see any change to the intersection” beyond what has been done, which includes stop signs in the median area to require drivers to make an additional stop before crossing, rumble strips, and other improvements, and an increased law enforcement presence was needed in the area.

According to Thornton, public comments are playing a vital role in the project’s development.

“Based on comments we received, VDOT made modifications to the design,” he remarked. “While we were not able to incorporate every single requirement we received, our traffic engineers, our design folks, people at the residency looked through the design and comments, and what I am showing you addresses the design a lot of those comments we received.”

“We feel like, at the end of the day, this is a better project because of public involvement we received on October 17,” he said, adding, in regards to concerns about the low nature of the project’s cost, approximately $300,000, “We were not given a dollar figure to hit for this project. We were given a goal to reduce accidents at this intersection and provide the best project going forward to do that. The project is financially friendly for this location.”

The project was funded through state safety dollars that had been dedicated to an intersection improvement project along Ritchie Avenue, according to county leaders.

 Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors Chairman William Chavis speaks with John Reid, the father of Dakota Reid, a young Dinwiddie man who lost his life in a crash at the intersection of U.S. Route 460 and Courthouse Road in January. Since his death, Reid and the county have been active in working with VDOT to make the intersection safer. (Michael Campbell)

Last week’s board meeting and its public comments period served as a window into likely what some of those 43 respondents said to VDOT in October following their public information session, with some presenting photos and their own research as part of their proposals to the agency, with some asking for speed reductions or for both the county and transportation agency to look at other options before moving forward with this proposal. The majority of speakers last Wednesday stood united in saying they want to ensure all stakeholders have a voice in the process, from everyday commuters, to bus drivers, to log truck drivers, to motorcyclists.

Dakota’s father John Reid also spoke during last week’s meeting, sharing his thoughts nearly a year after losing his son at the crossroads.

“I agree with a lot of the things that have been said on social media, for example, the money issue. There is always going to be a money issue, no matter what direction we go,” he said. “It is not about the individuals who have the perfect driving records or those who have driven for 25, 30 years. It is about the inexperienced drivers who don’t take the time to think before they act or the elderly, whose reaction time may be half that of a person my age.”

Reid continued, “It is about protecting the individuals who get through that intersection, who abide by the law like they are supposed to. We have to protect the ones who do abide by the law. With VDOT trying to come with a plan with the county, doing nothing is definitely not the answer. It is a liability.”

“Folks in the county are starting to pay attention to things that are being left unsaid and undone and I know you on board with trying to solve this problem. I express my sympathies to you guys on some of the hard decisions you are going to have to make from here on out. I truly hope if you find that something will be done,” the father closed.

Given that winter has set in, both VDOT and supervisors said this allows more time to glean comments from the community and further refine the design before the spring of next year, when construction traditionally resumes in the Commonwealth.

“We are continuing, as we move forward with this project, to work with staff, the Virginia Loggers Association, the school transportation [department], and the agriculture community,” Thornton said. “We feel what has been presented today is better than what we brought forward on [October] 17 and continued public input is going to improve this project. So, working with staff, in the future, we do want to have another meeting as we further refine this project and make it better.”

The latest renderings and information has been added to the Virginia Department of Transportation’s website on a page dedicated to the project, which can be found at http://virginiadot.org/projects/richmond listed under “proposed” projects.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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