VDOT presents roundabout plan for Temple Ave. I-95 exit
By Ashley McLeod, Staff Writer
Sep 16, 2013, 11:57
VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION A graphic shows how the new interchange will be to the west of the current one and incorporate a roundabout.
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — Residents of Colonial Heights filled the council chamber room at City Hall on Thursday night for a chance to speak with officials from the Virginia Department of Transportation about the roundabout project at the Interstate 95-Temple Avenue Interchange.
The proposed project will relocate the exit ramp slightly west of the current site. The construction will eliminate the traffic light currently at the intersection and will replace it with a roundabout in hopes of improving safety and traffic to the area.
“This design will offer a better level of service, taking care of some of the congestion and traffic back-ups onto the I-95 exit ramp, which we anticipate this will fix,” said VDOT Project Manager Janet Hedrick.
Currently the I-95 exit ramp ends in a stoplight at Temple Avenue. The traffic in the area of this intersection is usually heavy, due in part to its close proximity to Southpark Mall, located just minutes east.
The announcement of this project follows the announcement of the sale of the old Colonial Heights Courthouse to Kroger, and the construction of a new store in it’s place. Hedrick said the two projects are not tied together, but that the roundabout project was brought up by the city and has been in the works for at least two years,
“The city wanted us to come up with a design that would take care of congestion with having as little impact on surrounding properties,” Hedrick said.
According to Hedrick, VDOT has looked at least 11 different designs for the roundabout before coming up with the current plan. The plan has been blocked twice due to safety and proximity issues.
One plan blocked by the city required the purchase of two properties, the Hardee’s and the Kangaroo gas station located to the east of the exit. The exit construction would have blocked access to the properties, affecting their business.
“It impacted the properties to the extent we would have to buy them and close down the businesses,” Hendrick said. “This plan minimizes that impact and allows those businesses to stay.”
With the relocation of the exit ramp slightly to the west, the roundabout will not interfere with the two businesses, but is still a safe distance from the residential areas on Hamilton Road. The project does require the purchase of one residential property.
The estimated cost of the roundabout is currently $20 million, but may differ slightly as the plan is still in the design stage. If the current design is approved, construction will begin on Oct. 17, 2014, and is expected to be completed by the end of June in 2017.
The plans for the roundabout were carefully researched and investigated by VDOT engineers and designers. Statistics such as the amount of traffic in the area were carefully researched by VDOT. Woo was one of the designers involved with creating the plans for the roundabout. Woo said that traffic engineers simulated several different ideas for the construction, trying to figure out what the best plan of action would be in order to decrease the amount of traffic while making the area safer to drive.
“The simulations figured out the best placement for lanes, narrowing it down to the most efficient, and best for traffic, design,” Woo said.
Nine alternative plans were considered, with different combinations of ramps and configuration of signals. The current plan was the safest, while being able to handle the capacity of traffic coming through.
Each side of the roundabout will have three lanes of traffic, including a bypass lane on all three sides. The bypass lane will allow traffic to miss the roundabout in order to decrease the amount of traffic flowing through the center. For example, if you are traveling west on Temple, there is no need to travel through the circle, so drivers can bypass the roundabout and continue west toward the Boulevard.
While roundabouts may be confusing to some drivers, part of the construction will include what VDOT officials describe as “an exhausted signage plan,” which will alert drivers as to which lane they should travel in before entering the roundabout.
VDOT employee Robert Vilak worked on the plans specifically focusing on the traffic issues in the area. Vilak explained that the road will have more lanes due to the amount of traffic flowing through the site. Each lane will have a specific path going through the roundabout.
Vilak said that the signs that will be posted will tell driver “what lane you need to be in, for what movement, to go to what destination.”
The signs will be down the road from the roundabout, so that by the time drivers reach it, they will know where they need to go.
“That was part of the purpose of the detailed sign plan that we came up with, to try to give (drivers) the necessary information long before they get there,” Vilak said.
According to Vilak and Hedrick, the roundabout is not as complicated as it may seem.
Traffic inside of the circle will always have the right of way. That means if you are exiting the interstate, you will yield to traffic and merge as in other exit ramps around the area. Traffic headed west and getting onto the interstate will yield and merge as they turn left towards the ramp and drive straight through. Traffic headed east on Temple will yield to those coming east who are turning to get onto the interstate.
If drivers wish to exit the roundabout at the first exit, they should drive through the roundabout in the right lane, while if wanting to exit through the second exit, they should stay in the left lane in the circle.
“I think once people learn it and have driven it a few times, it’s going to
be nice and work out well,” Hedrick said.
The purpose of implementing roundabouts is to improve the flow of traffic while improving safety. The geometry in the design of a roundabout allows for lanes to not cross, but be side by side, which Vilak says reduces the amount of and the severity of accidents.
“If accidents do happen, the geometrics of the inner loop of the roundabout are designed so you have to drive this at a slower pace, so if there is a crash, it’ll be a less severe crash.”
Vilak also said that roundabouts make it hard for angular accidents to happen, which are more dangerous. Angular accidents are caused when vehicles are headed from opposite directions and one crosses over into the other’s path. An example of this type of accident is when a vehicle is hit head on, or “T-boned.”
Another factor to decrease traffic in the site is that there will no longer be a stoplight, allowing for continuous movement of traffic from all directions. With the current stoplight, at least one direction of traffic gets backed up due to waiting for the signal change.
While the roundabout will require drivers to yield to oncoming traffic, the wait time will be less.
“There will be queuing on the approaches, but they will clear up a lot quicker than they would at a traffic signal,” Vilak said.
This concept also allows the project to be considered a “green design.”
“Now instead of sitting at a signal waiting, you’re always moving,” Hedrick said. “It reduces emissions from the vehicles.”
With all of these concepts helping the case for the construction of the roundabout, some residents aren’t convinced.
“I don’t think we need it, and I think its going to be more confusing, with more accidents,” said Susan Denny, who has lived her entire life in Colonial Heights.
Denny lives within five minutes of the site, and says that she will avoid the intersection at all costs after the roundabout is put in place.
“I’m just not convinced that it’s going to be safer, faster, or that it will eliminate the problems we do have,” Denny said.
Linda Hogwood has also lived her whole life in the city, and shares the same opinion as Denny. Hogwoods concerns focus on the safety of the area residents.
“It might make things safer on 95 but I think it will be detrimental to the safety of the citizens. The confusion, congestion; there are so many people that live right along there and school buses are going through there all the time. People are going every which way and it just doesn’t look like a good plan to me,” Hogwood said.
The meeting held no formal presentation to explain the details of the project, which both women thought was necessary for an idea like the roundabout.
“I wish VDOT had made a presentation to help us understand all these issues,” Denny said. “I just don’t see how it will help.”
Denny also pointed out the impact of the construction on the area, which will be taking place at the same time the Kroger is being planned to be constructed.
All of the plans for the roundabout project are available online, as well as a video simulating how the flow of traffic will be after the completion of the roundabout.
Residents of Colonial Heights are encouraged to contact VDOT with any comments or questions on the project. The public comment period will end on Sept. 22.