By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer
In one of their most impactful quarterly updates in recent memory, on February 25th the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) introduced a new resident engineer and told the Greene County Board of Supervisors of their intent to evaluate removing an existing US 29 traffic signal in the Ruckersville Development area. Property owners and businesses voiced concerns over the proposed traffic management change.
Acting VDOT Resident Engineer Alan Saunders first introduced Carrie Shepheard (on her fist day on the job) as the new Resident Engineer for VDOT’s Charlottesville Residency, which is responsible for VDOT operations in Albemarle, Greene and Madison counties.
Saunders made his presentation and then opened the meeting for questions from the Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Dale Herring (At-Large) questioned the status of the intersection review of Route 29 in front of Lowes where there is currently a three way stop light. A 200 unit apartment complex has been approved just east of Route 29 on Moore Road to link directly to Route 29 making it a four way stop.
Saunders indicated that the latest signal justification report by the proposed Stone View developer did not meet the traffic demand warrants for a traffic signal. In addition, the study did not include the mandated alternative analysis modeling. Saunders reminded the Board:
“US 29 is a corridor of statewide significance and it’s on the Department statewide arterial network and according to Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) goals we do not want to do anything that would not meet their goals and add delay to Route 29 preservation and we don’t want to degrade capacity. We don’t want to add signals and if possible we want to eliminate signals.”
Saunders said that VDOT is examining the potential of eliminating this current signalized intersection to what is called an R-Cut or J-Turn, eliminating the signal that has been there for several years and what property owners have been assuming would be there as they plan for future economic development and spend money toward that end.
Herring pushed on asking about traffic flow if the light is removed and was told that traffic would go to the next intersection and would double back depending which direction they were headed. So that south bound traffic coming out of the planned road from the east would have to turn right, go north on Route 29 and then make a U-turn to head south on Route 29.
Saunders indicated of the 40% of the 819 traffic fatalities last year were at intersections, many of them signalized.
So any time we add a left turn signal we increase opportunities for conflict and crashes, the R-cuts remove that conflict and generally improve traffic flow not only on the through street but on the side streets as well because they are not cued at the light.
When the meeting was opened for public comment, the property owners around the intersection were well prepared. The first speaker was Denise LaCour who is the developer of the 200 high end apartments east of Route 29. She refreshed the Board’s memory that she is the one who wanted the direct access to Route 29 at the Lowes intersection both to benefit the county and to minimize the traffic impact of dumping more traffic from Moore Road to the Route 33 and Route 29 intersection.
She indicated this alignment would also create two more commercial corners on Route 29 to benefit the economy of Greene County that the residents of her 200 apartments will help generate demand for more businesses north of Ruckersville. She asked that the Supervisors adopt a resolution to retain the light at the Lowes intersection.
Justin Shimp, engineer for the approved apartment complex, told the Supervisors, he estimates that the impact of adding a turn lane on Route 29 would add less than a second to the traffic going through the existing stop light as opposed to what the impact at the Route 29 and 33 intersection would be – significantly more – if the light was eliminated. While in theory, VDOT might hope that traffic coming to Route 29 at Lowes would turn north and then make a U turn to head south he feels that most people will go down Moore Road to Route 33 to get onto Route 29 and add to that congestion. Exactly what they have been trying to avoid.
Several other property owners and developers spoke against the elimination of the stop light at the Lowes intersection. Nina Powell, owner of property that would be on the corner of Route 29 at the light, donated property to help with the road development. Brent Hall, a developer who owns property on the west side of Route 29, said the elimination of the stop light would reduce the property value and congest the Route 29 and 33 intersection.
Developer Andrew Boninti (CBRE), the manager of the Gateway Center since its inception – 12 years ago, indicated truck traffic for Lowes and Walmart use the current intersection on Route 29 where the light exists to make deliveries and the addition of more business will add to the need for this intersection to keep the stop light. There are currently nine more acres in the Walmart/Lowes development to be developed.
Finally, Frank Eways, Jr. owner of Eways Carpets is the owner of the property that has been sold to the apartment complex. He expressed his belief the assumption has always been that the light would be at the Lowes intersection. The potential change to not having the light at the Lowes intersection changes the economic value of the location and will diminish the economic benefit to Greene County. In addition, the elimination of the light will further aggravate the congestion at the Route 29 and 33 intersection.
The meeting came back to the supervisors and Supervisor Steve Bowman (Monroe) spoke about the current congestion out of the Stoneridge Development onto Route 33 and he is fearful of what more traffic will do to the intersection.
Chairman Bill Martin (Stanardsville) suggested that VDOT meet with the interested business people, property owners and other stakeholders in the county to discuss options as soon as possible so that developers will get a clear understanding on what will happen. Sanders from VDOT agreed that they would be glad to discuss the intersection alternatives with all the stakeholders. Martin asked that County Administrator Mark Taylor to coordinate the meeting as quickly as possible.
The question this situation raises is why was a stop light installed at the intersection by VDOT to begin with if it is now felt that it is not beneficial? Many have made private financial decisions based on the intersection having a traffic light.
How much time will the elimination of this stop light improve the traffic throughput down Route 29 as opposed to other options that VDOT could explore?
What are the negative effects to the rest of Ruckersville traffic by eliminating this stop light intersection?
If the goal is to reduce travel time on Route 29, should cross overs like what was done at Rio Road be considered?
Or would a more comprehensive solution to improve US 29 traffic flow in the region might be looking to extend the transportation investments made under the Route 29 solutions program.
· Light synchronization north of Airport Road
· Extend Berkmar Extended into Greene County
· Or even, dusting off the now defunct western by-pass plans and extending it to the Greene/Madison Border.
Each of these projects represents a level of infrastructure investment and a return on that investment. We are encouraged that VDOT indicated a willingness to meet with the stakeholders and consider the context of this decision on concert with the funded improvements to US29 & 33 that will go out for bid next year.
Which project, or the status quo, provides the best return on investment should be examined not just in evaluating throughput and safety but also economic vitality to Greene County’s Ruckersville designated growth area.
Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization. The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you. To support this important work please donate online
Photo Credits: Pintrest, VDOT, FHWA, Greene County