Isle of Wight commits $5 million for Turner Drive roundabout

Published 6:03 pm Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Isle of Wight County supervisors have committed to spending up to $5 million to build a single-lane roundabout on Turner Drive near the site of a proposed Wawa convenience store.

The project would also add dual westbound left-turn lanes from Benns Church Boulevard onto Turner.

The supervisors voted unanimously on Sept. 21 to approve a slate of items included in the meeting’s consent agenda, which included a resolution supporting a Virginia Department of Transportation revenue-sharing grant application for the project.

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VDOT’s revenue-sharing program, according to the state agency’s website, allows localities to request up to $10 million. Projects are selected through an application process, and funds are allocated annually by the state’s 17-member Commonwealth Transportation Board. The grants require a 50% cash match by the applying locality.

According to a report by county staff, Isle of Wight is anticipating growth along the Benn’s Church corridor and intends to seek a cost-sharing agreement among the county and at least two real estate developers to fund the 50% match.

The county staff report states that VDOT, Isle of Wight and its school system, the town of Smithfield and private stakeholders have developed a conceptual application.

Miami-based Frontier Development, which in 2021 proposed building the Wawa adjacent to Smithfield High School at the Benns Church and Turner intersection, wrote on Sept. 15 to the county’s transportation director, Jamie Oliver, that the company “remains interested and is committed to participating in future discussions with the County and Town (of Smithfield) on a proposed cost sharing agreement.”

Smithfield Town Manager Michael Stallings said he hasn’t seen any proposed cost-sharing agreement involving the town.

Oliver received similarly worded letters from Greenwood Homes Hampton Roads LLC, which identifies itself in its letter as the “contract purchaser” of a Muddy Cross Drive parcel located roughly a mile from Turner Drive, and from Harrison and Lear Inc., a Hampton-based real estate firm. The letters also reference an agreement with Henry Layden, the trustee of the Yeoman farm, on which the Wawa and a 615-home mixed-use development named “Sweetgrass” are proposed.

The Wawa and Sweetgrass would be on opposite sides of Benns Church Boulevard, which bisects the farm.

The grant application is due in October. The roundabout project, Oliver said, will not be part of Wawa’s still-pending application to the county but rather will be a component of a multi-party master plan for the Benn’s Church Boulevard and Turner Drive intersection, in which Wawa’s developers are participating.

The grant application “is conceptual only,” Oliver said, meaning plans showing the exact size and location of the roundabout won’t be available until if and when the project enters its design phase.

The sought-after VDOT grant, according to the county staff report, would fund all engineering and construction costs to bring the roundabout and related traffic controls to fruition. 

Plans for the Wawa stalled after Isle of Wight County’s Planning Commission, in mid-2022, recommended approval of a conditional use permit for the gas station and store, conditioned on its developers submitting an “alternative intersection design” for Turner Drive “such as a single-lane roundabout.” The supervisors, who have the final say on whether the permit is approved, tabled their decision last September, citing ongoing discussions concerning the site’s Turner Drive access.

Plans developed by the engineering firm Kimley-Horn had initially proposed installing “do not block” pavement markings at the Turner Drive access, which, according to a Virginia Department of Transportation traffic analysis, would have depended on enforcement by local police. In November, VDOT denied Wawa its requested exception to allow left turns from the gas station onto Turner Drive, citing congestion during peak school traffic hours.

VDOT representatives told supervisors on Sept. 21 that Wawa had submitted a new master plan the prior week that remains under review.