VDOT says it can’t yield to demand for stop light
By Blake Belden, Staff Writer
Dec 2, 2013, 12:11
BY BLAKE BELDEN/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Some say the intersection of Prince George Drive and Middle Road is unsafe and needs a stop light.
PRINCE GEORGE — Members of the Prince George community are demanding the installation of a stoplight at a dangerous intersection on Prince George Drive, but regulations mandated by the federal government have prevented it from happening.
Prince George resident Donald Vtipil Jr., whose daughter lives on property that he owns at the intersection, has been fighting for a stoplight there for years and has spoken with public officials numerous times about getting one installed.
“It’s very clear to everybody that this is an extremely dangerous intersection and so I’ve really stayed on the bandwagon because I fear for somebody’s child or grandfather or [whomever],” Vtipil said.
Situated just down the street from the Food Lion on Prince George Drive, the intersection in question is at the crossing between Middle Road, or Route 646, and Prince George Drive, Route 156. Directly across the street from Middle Road is Moncol Drive, which has just recently been paved, allowing for a greater volume of traffic to come to the intersection.
Vtipil said that there have been more than 30 reported accidents around the intersection, some of which required helicopter transport to Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond.
The Prince George Police Department reported that there were 12 vehicle crashes on Middle Road since June 2012, according to a Facebook post by Prince George County on Oct. 30.
Vtipil said that he has seen some “pretty nasty” accidents at the intersection, including one where a driver ran the stop sign at the end of Middle Road and blindsided a vehicle on Prince George Drive, forcing it onto his daughter’s property against a telephone pole.
“He couldn’t get out of the car, but six inches to the left, if he’d hit [the telephone pole] head on, he would have been gone,” Vtipil said.
Referencing 24 years of military service where decisions were made to save lives, Vtipil said that this is also a decision that needs to be made about saving lives.
“The day is going to come when some police officer is going to have to knock on somebody’s door and say ‘Ma’am I’m sorry your son or daughter just lost their life at this intersection.’ God forbid, but that’s where we’re at,” Vtipil said.
VDOT spokesperson Lindsay LeGrand said that although VDOT hates to see fatalities or accidents of any kind, individual accidents might alert VDOT’s attention to an area, but are not cause enough to install stoplights.
“It doesn’t take an accident or a fatality for us to initiate changes to a location. It could just be something as simple as a citizen question or a citizen concern,” LeGrand said.
Prince George Board of Supervisors member Alan Carmichael said that the whole board is in favor of installing a stoplight, and that they even had funding to help pay for it (the cost of a stoplight is upwards of $300,000), however the board cannot go forward with any implementation unless VDOT approves of it because they are ultimately in charge of the installation and continued maintenance of a stoplight.
“The formula in which the state uses to justify putting up a stoplight and maintaining it has to meet so much criteria, and it doesn’t meet the criteria for a stoplight at that intersection,” Carmichael said.
VDOT conducted a study two years go to see if the intersection of Prince George Drive and Middle Road warranted the implementation of a stoplight, which takes into effect a multitude of factors, specifically traffic volume, and it was determined that not enough cars pass through the intersection for VDOT to put in a stoplight, according to LeGrand.
The study is based on a set of criteria established in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which designates a specific traffic volume for any individual location needed to satisfy installing a stoplight, LeGrand said.
For the intersection, there were two different statistical warrants that would have qualified the roads for a stoplight, however neither one was met.
The first configuration required that 500 vehicles pass through per hour on Prince George Drive (combined both directions) and 150 vehicles pass through per hour on Middle Road for each of eight hours during the day, according to an email from LeGrand.
The second set of criteria required 750 vehicles per hour for eight hours on Prince George Drive and 75 vehicles per hour on Middle Road. The Prince George Drive volumes did not exceed 750 vehicles per hour for any hour of the day, LeGrand said in the email.
LeGrand said that it appears as if VDOT will be returning to the intersection in “the near future” to double check on the traffic volume criteria necessary for installing a stoplight.
Vtipil said that VDOT needs to factor in safety concerns over traffic volumes, and that with all the roads and lanes, the intersection can get pretty clogged at one time.
“I have been there when you have up to eight cars approaching that intersection and I’ve watched it. All the turn lanes are full. There’s cars coming down 156 [Prince George Drive]. There’s cars coming out of Moncol Drive. There’s cars coming down Middle Road. ... If you count the ones that are departing the area, you can have 12 cars doing something at that intersection all controlled by two stop signs,” Vtipil said.
Both Route 646 and 156 have a speed limit of 45 mph going into the intersection, where there is a stop sign at the end of Route 646, but no stop signs on either side of Route 156. There is also a yellow sign about 0.1 mile from the stop sign on Middle Road warning drivers that a stop sign is ahead.
As a driver approaches Prince George Drive on Middle Road, two tall trees stand on the right corner of the intersection and a fence lines the left side, obstacles that might impede a driver’s visibility of oncoming traffic.
LeGrand said that because VDOT operates based on federal mandates established by the Federal Highway Administration, they cannot put up stoplights anywhere they want or make exceptions for certain locations, but that they can take alternative measures such as increased signage or flashing lights.
“We usually do [take other measures before installing stoplights] just because the requirements are so stringent to have a traffic signal that usually we have to exhaust every other measure before we put one in and it can be quite costly. We just want to make sure that it’s the best option for the location before we go ahead and jump to that first,” LeGrand said.
Vtipil doesn’t think that flashing lights a would be a sufficient measure to prevent accidents.
“I still get to [go] 45 miles per hour through that flashing light, so you haven’t slowed me down. All you’re doing is kind of ‘watch out,’” Vtipil said.
Carmichael said that a stoplight would not prevent an accident from ever happening at the intersection again, but that cautionary measures must be taken when they become available.
“Nothing is foolproof. But if you think that one day there may be a problem, if you think that we could probably do something to disrupt a problem from happening, then it’s our duty to bring that to the proper people’s attention,” Carmichael said.
This is not the only intersection in Prince George County to draw the public’s call for a stoplight in recent years. Carmichael said that he has also been fighting for two years to get a stoplight on Route 460 at the intersection of Queen Street by the Disputanta Volunteer Fire Department.
Without a stoplight, the roadway presents potential hazards to fire trucks backing in and out of the station as well as school buses crossing Route 460 to and from David A. Harrison Elementary School, Carmichael said.