Council doesn't want sidewalks at new I-95 interchange
By Blake Belden, staff writer
Jun 13, 2014, 11:27
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — A multi-million dollar Temple Avenue/Interstate-95 Interchange reconstruction project in Colonial Heights with a roundabout will continue as planned without the addition of any accommodations for pedestrian traffic heading east toward Southpark Mall.
Following a unanimous vote by City Council on Tuesday night, council members decided that asking the Virginia Department of Transportation to include pedestrian accommodations, including sidewalks and pedestrian refuge areas, could delay the initial construction of the project and endorse dangerous situations with people walking along a high-traffic roadway.
Construction on the interchange project, a $20 million project that has long been agreed upon by VDOT and City Council, is expected to be completed by 2017 and will replace the stoplight with a roundabout and move the exit ramp slightly to the west, alongside the property for the proposed Kroger development.
Although VDOT is typically required to include features that allow for pedestrian and bicyclist movement when constructing roadway developments, they claimed that, based on VDOT and Federal Highway Administration regulations, the interchange will be a “limited access area,” which does not warrant the inclusion for bicycle or pedestrian access, as stated in a memo from the Colonial Heights Department of Public Works to the city manager.
City staff brought the discussion to the council asking for a consensus on whether or not to argue VDOT’s position to exclude certain accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists along the corridor.
Chuck Henley, the director of public works, said that the disagreement the city had with VDOT was that there should be some sort of shoulder or wider area along the north side of the roundabout intersection, because the way the design currently exists, there will only be a limited space, of two feet at points, for pedestrians or anyone who happens to be in this area.
Mayor C. Scott Davis admitted that the city should be moving in a more pedestrian friendly direction as time goes on, but that with regard to this specific project and corridor, the priorities lie within easing the movement of traffic in and out of the city.
“I believe that if we put our push for pedestrian traffic in many other areas throughout the city as we do economic development, we will see success in that. But I don’t believe that there is a true, successful way for this particular area and corridor at this point,” Davis said.
Council member Diane Yates expressed similar safety concerns for pedestrians attempting to walk in this busy area, and said that when she thinks of people walking and exercising in Colonial Heights, she doesn’t think of them doing it along this stretch.
Henley said that there are admittedly few people who walk in this area, and that the issue is more along the lines of the lack of a refuge area than building sidewalks or pedestrians pathways.
“Perhaps the Temple Avenue corridor isn’t ready for prime time pedestrian or walkway facilities because of the nature of it and this project which is intended to provide other solutions. [But] I just wanted to make you aware of this, it will make it more difficult in the future to provide this [pedestrian] accommodation,” Henley said.
Council member John Wood said that asking for additional features to this long-developed project would only add extra costs and further delay the completion of the project, and favored of doing anything that expedites the project’s development.
Because of factors related to additional costs, delays in project development and the dangers of encouraging pedestrian traffic along the Temple corridor, the council unanimously decided to continue with the project as VDOT has designed it without pedestrian accommodations.
As far as taking measures to promote a more pedestrian friendly community, council member Gregory Kochuba said the city needs to look into alternative means for allowing for non-motorist traffic.