By DREW MUMICH
Star Tribune Staff Writer
The Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors is drafting a letter to VDOT asking that the agency abandon its plans to add a RCUT intersection design to the Tightsqueeze intersection at Route 29.
“After receiving multiple phone calls, probably the most I have ever received while sitting on the Board, we need to look at it closely because it is apparent our citizens are not happy, said Chatham-Blairs District Supervisor Bob Warren at a Board work session Tuesday.
“The more I looked at the details, the more concerns I have,” said Warren.
A Restricted Crossing U-turn design is being proposed for the Tightsqueeze and Fairfield roads intersection as a way to reduce congestion and improve safety during periods of high demand, according to VDOT.
One feature of the RCUT is that it requires traffic headed north on 29 from Tightsqueeze Road to turn right at the intersection before turning toward Chatham using a U-turn.
One of Warren’s concerns was the number of tractor-trailers and other large trucks that would pull on Route 29 off of Tightsqueeze Road and then merge three lanes before performing a U-turn toward Lynchburg.
The Restricted Crossing U-turn (RCUT) design guides drivers on Tight Squeeze Road/Fairview Road to turn right onto Route 29 and make a U-turn at one of two new crossover intersections on either side of the main intersection. It is designed to avoid left and through movements. The two new U-turns will have signals coordinated with the main intersection, according to VDOT.
“It just appears that with the amount of activity going on there… that this is going to create a congested spot,” said Warren.
VDOT Resident Engineer Jay Craddock spoke to the Board about the proposed intersection design.
Craddock explained that 32 different conflict points are currently at the Tightsqueeze intersection. A conflict point is where more than one path separates, crosses or joins together, creating the chance of an accident.
“With this project, it would reduce it to 14 conflict points, fewer conflict points, fewer crashes. And another advantage to doing this would be not only to lower the crash points, it is also meant to improve the flow of traffic through the intersection,” said Craddock.
Craddock added that motorists would spend less time sitting at the stoplight and experience fewer potential collisions.
“It flushes traffic through the intersection better. Because there’s less time for people sitting at a red light, dramatically reducing the opportunity for rear-end collisions,” said Craddock.
There have been 22 accidents at the intersection in the past five years, according to VDOT.
The Board, however, said it believes the $11.4 million budgeted for the project could be better used elsewhere.
“We would love for you to consider using that ($11.4 million) on Dry Fork Road, where it needs some widening and expansion because we get calls about vehicles passing on that road,” said Warren.
The Board thanked VDOT for looking into fixing the intersection, but still plans to submit its letter requesting that the plans be stopped.
Roy Van Der Hyde, who runs a dairy in the Chatham-Blairs District, spoke at the business meeting later in the evening. He told the Board that the new design, if it proceeds as planned, would be a huge problem for his business, as it uses large trucks. He thanked the Board for stepping in to oppose the plan.
This design is being utilized in Virginia, and RCUTs are also being planned at U.S. 29 and Shula Drive and at U.S. 29 and Route 151 in Amherst County, according to VDOT.
A public hearing for the Tightsqueeze intersection project is scheduled for Tuesday, May 23, 4 – 6 p.m. at Chatham High School. However, Craddock does not know if that is now going to happen.
Written comments can be mailed to Amanda Cox, DBIA, project manager, Virginia Department of Transportation, 4219 Campbell Avenue, Lynchburg, VA 24501-4801. Comments can also be emailed to comments to Amanda.Cox@VDOT.Virginia.gov. Reference “Route 29 and Route 703 RCUT” in the subject line.
Route 57 East bridge
Banister District Supervisor Robert Taylor, along with Banister District resident Willie Fitzgerald, spoke about their concerns with the Route 57 East bridge, and their plans to attend a VDOT meeting in Lynchburg on Thursday. County Administrator Stuart Turille will also attend.
Fitzgerald said he planned to present a petition signed by residents, as well as the Sheriff’s Office, fire and rescue and the Pittsylvania County School division.
Fitzgerald said the bridge, which is down to one lane, is 91 years old and is not even on VDOT’s six-year plan.
Tucker, who had looked into the issue prior to the Board meeting, said about 1,900 vehicles cross that bridge each day, and some businesses are incurring an additional expense to reroute their trucks to avoid it.
Tucker said he’s spoken with state legislators, who want to help, but also said VDOT is it’s “own sovereign boss.”
“Legislators cannot really push VDOT around. I want to tamp down everyone’s expectations,” said Tucker.
Tucker said he was told it would cost about $30 million to fix the bridge, so he plans to ask for a traffic study and an inspection. The hope is that the bridge can fail the inspection due to being down to one lane and therefore it will need to be replaced.
County Attorney Vaden Hunt said a letter could be written from the Board, and that can be presented to VDOT at the Thursday meeting.
“I think we owe it to our citizenry to do a general letter of support,” said Hunt.
The Board voted to proceed with the letter to VDOT.
VDOT spokesman Len Stevens said last month that an in-depth bridge safety inspection is scheduled for later this spring.
“While we continue to inspect and evaluate the bridge on a regular basis, it does not qualify for State of Good Repair funding at this time,” said Stevens in an email to the Star-Tribune.
Schools and county budgets
No one spoke at either public hearing for the fiscal 2024 Pittsylvania County Schools and Pittsylvania County budgets. The Board will meet Tuesday, May 23, 4 p.m. to formally adopt the county budget, which includes the $127.8 million schools budget.
The local contribution to the schools budget is $22 million, an increase of $1 million from the previous fiscal year, according to Director of Finance Kim Van Der Hyde.
The county’s $232.9 million budget includes the schools budget and represents a $79.6 million general fund budget.
The fiscal 2024 county budget does not include a real estate tax increase.
The county’s other tax rates — personal property, machinery and tools, mobile homes and merchant’s capital tax — will also remain unchanged.
“This was as tough a budget as we’ve seen for some time,” said Staunton River District Supervisor Tim Dudley.
“If we had to raise taxes, you’d have to put out chairs,” he said of the evening’s public hearings.
Warren said the Board realized that during these economic times and with inflation, it could not ask residents to weather a tax increase right now.
Honoring Tim Chesher
The Board adopted a resolution honoring Dan River District Supervisor Tim Chesher, who submitted his letter of resignation in April, effective June 1. Chesher cited medical concerns for his departure, and has stated publicly that his cancer has returned.
“To step down from the Board was probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made,” said Chesher during Board reports.
“There are some things you need to quit,” he said, recalling that last year he would come to meetings after receiving chemotherapy and that was very hard to do.
After presenting the resolution, each Board member provided their thoughts on serving alongside Chesher.
“You certainly have a servant’s heart. And doing it with all the adversity you have had in the past year, it’s been amazing,” said Warren.
Chesher said he’s made some mistakes, as he came on as a rookie, and he couldn’t have served without the support of his family.
Chesher came on the Board on Jan. 1, 2022.
The Board then voted to allow Hunt to petition the court for a special election Nov. 7 to fill the remaining two years of Chesher’s term.
This adds another seat up for grabs on the Board, as there is also a special election to fill the remaining term of Banister District Supervisor Jessie Barksdale, who resigned last fall. Tucker was appointed as interim until the November election, and he is also running for the seat.
Other seats up facing expired terms include Westover, Staunton River, Chatham-Blairs and Tunstall.
Star-Tribune Editor Diana McFarland contributed to this report.
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