VDOT: Turn lane necessary to reduce traffic conflicts

Published 10:28 am Wednesday, July 12, 2017

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

Despite the town of Smithfield’s ownership of the Joseph W. Luter Jr. sports complex, the Virginia Department of Transportation still holds the legal authority to keep it closed pending road improvements.

State code section 33.2-241 and Virginia Administrative Code 24VAC30-73-20 allow VDOT to “regulate entrances and manage access to highways,” in the interest of “safety and mobility.”

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Traffic going to the facility is expected to come from Rt. 258 in Smithfield. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The town had planned to install a right turn lane at the front of the facility eventually, but in late May, VDOT informed the town that it might require a turn lane at the entrance prior to the facility’s opening, which was planned for late August or early September of this year.

Based on the need for a turn lane, town officials now say the opening of the complex could be delayed by as much as a year.

“Safety and flow of traffic on the highway is the state’s responsibility to decrease traffic conflict points,” VDOT spokesperson Paula Miller said in an email.

However, Miller also said that VDOT is working with the town to identify acceptable alternatives for an entrance until a right turn lane can be constructed.

The turn lane is estimated to cost $300,000, according to Miller, which would derive from the town’s Urban Fund, which is 98 percent VDOT funds left over from previous projects for the town and 2 percent from the town.

The town will be overseeing the construction of the turn lane.

The town’s design plans for the turn lane is 60 percent complete, according to Miller, and VDOT will review revised plans once they have been submitted by the town.

The town submitted a Turn Lane Warrant Analysis to VDOT last year, proposing a modified right turn lane at the entrance of the facility with no left turn lane, according to minutes of a Planning Commission meeting held Sept. 13.

The reason for only requiring a right turn lane at the entrance and not a left one as well was that a majority of the children who had signed up to play Little League baseball for the Smithfield Recreation Association came from within the town, according to the minutes.

Smithfield Recreation is a nonprofit organization scheduled to manage the maintenance of the sports complex once it is open.

About 80 percent of the children who signed up for SRA last year lived within the town, and 20 percent came from the northern end of the county, according to the minutes of the meeting.

If the town decides to expand the sports complex facility in the future, it would need to revisit the left turn lane option, according to Planning and Zoning Administrator William Saunders.

In part to save money on the project, the town chose to delay the installation of the sports complex’s sewer line and perform the installation itself at the same time as the turn lane, using money from the town’s urban fund for both projects, according to Town Manager Peter Stephenson. The decision saved $101,633 from the town’s contract with R.A.D. Sports, the contractor constructing the facility, and which was originally scheduled to implement the sewer line at the beginning of the project.

The simultaneous construction of the turn lane and sewer was also suggested by VDOT, as it would avoid tearing up the road twice, according to Kimley Horn project consultant Jamie Weist at a December Town Council committee meeting. The town tentatively plan to haul the sports complex’s sewage out of a holding tank by truck until the turn lane and sewer are constructed.

The planned sewer line will extend east toward an existing manhole at Westside Elementary School.

The town is also looking to reduce the speed limit on that particular stretch of highway. The speed limit increases from 45 miles per hour to 55 miles per hour right about where the entrance to the facility is scheduled to go.

According to Saunders, the town is aiming to extend the 45 mph speed limit to the stretch of highway by the sports complex’s entrance. The increase to 55 mph would then potentially begin at the town’s limits at Waterworks Road.

However, in order to procure a speed limit reduction from VDOT, the sports complex would need to be open and operational, according to Saunders.

Once the sports complex is up and running, the town can request that VDOT conduct a speed study to assess and validate the possible speed reduction, Saunders said in an email.

Saunders has said that the town has attempted to lower the speed limit there in the past, but it was not warranted because there were no buildings there.  {/mprestriction}