Phoning it in
After a series of serious, sometimes fatal, wrecks near the intersection of Rt. 250 and Fairground Road, Goochland supervisors asked VDOT—all together now, the state agency whose motto is Oops! —to study the road and make safety improvement recommendations. Goochland, like most other counties in Virginia, depends solely on VDOT to build and maintain roads.
(Please note, a distinction must be made between the hard working VDOT employees who do a great job with limited resources of cutting grass, plowing snow, and routine maintenance and those who make policy, the Oops! meisters. A special shout out to the flaggers who risk their lives to keep order in construction zones.)
At the February 7 Board meeting, Bruce McNabb. P.E., engineer for the Ashland VDOT residency, which includes Goochland, presented the findings of a traffic study for the stretch of Rt. 250 two and one half miles on either side of Oilville Road. (Visit the count website to see the presentation in the board packet, or view it on the livestream tab for February 7, 3 p.m., about 30 minutes in.)
McNabb said that the study, dated November 11, 2016, was prepared by Don DeBerry PE of the consulting firm of McCormack Taylor. Although the presentation included cost estimates for various mitigation options, there was no mention of the fee paid to McCormack Taylor for preparing the study.
Safety mitigation options were presented for each of the three intersections with Rt. 250, at Cardwell, Oilville, and Fairground Roads, ranked by cost and cost benefit analysis. McNabb said that options with low cost benefit ranking were unlikely to be funded.
Cardwell Road’s intersection with Rt. 250 was characterized as “unconventional,” the rest of the world would call it a Y. Solutions to safety issues here, said McNabb, reading from the study prepared by DeBerry, include a roundabout to keep traffic moving; changing the intersection to a conventional T; or adding signs. The options were presented in descending cost order.
McNabb did say that the curve template used in the conceptual roundabout was wide enough to accommodate tractor trailers. (Remember when the “Centerville Speedway” was built, the initial turning lanes from Rt. 250 to southbound Manakin Road were so tight that large trucks were unable to make the turn? A VDOT representative explained that happened because someone used the wrong template when designing those turn lanes. The entertainment value of moving vans jack knifed across all traffic lanes of Broad Street was fleeting.)
Although the study was allegedly prepared with data analysis, it seems unlikely that previous VDOT attention to this intersection were reviewed. Past “studies” of this intersection found that the more than $1 million estimated cost to reroute various telecommunications wires and fiber located in the “Y” made the project too expensive for consideration. Several large junction boxes located under the big tree give credence to this.
Sign partially obscured by a tree. Can you make out what the sign is trying to tell you?
The solution? Signs, which were deployed on February 7. One of these, east of Cardwell Road, is partially obscured by vegetation giving drivers traveling at 55 little time to notice and process the sign’s message. McNabb was happy to note that the cost of the signs was less than the $19 thousand mentioned in the report.
A sign was deployed east of the Oilville Road connection, within sight of the traffic signal there, warning that there is a traffic signal ahead. Adding highly reflective frames around the signal heads was suggested.
The Fairground Road intersection is located at the top of two long, “blind” hills. The speed limit on Rt. 250 is 55 mph. Eastbound, the road passes through tall trees, westbound down one long hill and up another. Again, signs were deployed so near the danger spot that drivers going the speed limit, would be on top of the them before they were noticed. Speeders might never even see the signs.
The high cost option was a roundabout, whose two millionish price tag generates a cost/benefit ratio of .36, way below the funding threshold. The conceptual drawing, which McNabb said could be very different from what is built, would eliminate the existing turn lane, which provides too much opportunity for vehicles to “trade paint” at peak traffic hours.
McNabb also said that, while the study found no safety issues with the passing zones west of Fairground Road, they will be shortened, just to be on the safe side, during the next road construction season.
These alleged remedies for traffic safety issues assume that drivers pay attention and read signs while traveling at the posted speed of 55 mph. No mention was made of reducing the speed limit west of Fairground Road, or installing measures, like a low-profile rumble strip to engage a sense other than sight, to warn drivers about the intersection before they are on top of it.
This study was a waste of time, and the money it cost to hire the consultant. The new signs are in place. If you travel the area on a regular basis, you probably will not notice them. It is doubtful that drivers who are drunk, high, or just plain distracted and going too fast will notice them either. Oops!!