A roundabout way

Published 6:57 pm Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Traffic circle would be in IW’s most congested road strip

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer 

The Smithfield Town Council is studying a proposal to build a traffic roundabout on the most congested stretch of road in Isle of Wight County.

The planned traffic circle would be aimed at handling traffic at Benn’s Church Boulevard’s intersection with Gumwood Drive and Cypress Crossing, located just south of the Smithfield bypass’s intersection with South Church Street.

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The plans unveiled last week would also include the addition of a fourth lane at the bypass/Church Street intersection. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization identifies the stretch of Benn’s Church Boulevard between the bypass and Turner Drive (Hwy. 644) as “severely congested” in its southbound lanes weekday mornings, and “severely congested” both directions each afternoon.

The traffic study, completed by engineering consultant Kimley-Horn, also shows plans for a roadway on the other side of the intersection to connect with Cypress Crossing — and which would also provide another link to the roundabout.

Smithfield Mayor Carter Williams said that a public hearing will be a necessary part of the process going forward with the roundabout and other construction along Benn’s Church Boulevard, adding that he’d expect one in about a year. 

The Kimley-Horn study was requested two years ago by the town of Smithfield in anticipation of commercial growth in the town and the effect that would have on the Benn’s Church Boulevard and South Church Street intersection.  

This particular stretch of Benn’s Church Boulevard is considered slightly more congested than Carrollton Boulevard to and from the James River Bridge — a portion of highway that receives a good deal of complaints about the amount of traffic. 

Benn’s Church Boulevard gets an average of 27,000 vehicles a day as compared to Carrollton Boulevard at 29,000, according to 2017 VDOT traffic data.  

Williams said that he’s attended several seminars on roundabouts and thinks they are safer than traditional intersections and would aid the flow of traffic at the Cypress Crossing/Gumwood Drive intersection. 

VDOT also has its own criteria for intersections, such as spacing between signals and how that affects safety. Putting another traffic signal on Benn’s Church Boulevard, rather than a roundabout, would require a waiver, according to Kimley-Horn.

 “One of the things that we also have to take into consideration is VDOT’s access management and signalized intersection spacing and spacing standards between signalized intersections,” said Carroll Collins, transportation planner at Kimley-Horn.  

Space between signalized intersections would need to be about a quarter of a mile in order to comply with VDOT’s access management standards, said Collins in a Dec. 3 interview, noting that the distance between Cypress Crossing/Gumwood Drive and South Church Street intersections is 1,175 feet — 145 feet short. 

Collins also said the space limitation, along with VDOT’s push for more roundabouts where appropriate, could result in some resistance from the state agency. Collins said a “plethora” of studies have credited roundabouts with increased safety and being less expensive in the long run, but couldn’t reference any specific data during an interview. 

The intersection plans are based on the results of the Kimley-Horn study, which looked at nine intersections along South Church Street and Benn’s Church Boulevard, four of which have stoplights and five that do not.

In total, Kimley-Horn presented the Town Council with six options for further development of the two intersections while recommending Alternative 5 — a conventional at-grade intersection at South Church Street and a roundabout at Gumwood Drive/Cypress Crossing. 

An alternative to the roundabout at Gumwood Drive could be an RCUT — a “Restricted Crossing U-Turn” that would provide adequate space for U-turns in both directions of the boulevard’s traffic. RCUT’s don’t allow for left turns from minor roads onto major roadways, designed instead for those intending to turn left on the highway turn right and then make a U-turn. 

Collins said that projections for further land development along Benn’s Church Boulevard came from Smithfield’s future land use map in the town’s Comprehensive Plan, and that the proposed intersection changes are in response to those projections.  

If the Kimley-Horn recommendation is accepted and moves forward, the town will have to ask for break-in access to VDOT-owned, “right-of-way” land. The land is necessary to complete the fourth leg of the South Church Street and Benn’s Church Boulevard intersection, which currently has three lanes. 

Kimley-Horn plans to prepare and submit a final study for VDOT to review within the next two weeks, according to Collins.  {/mprestriction}