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Plan shouldn’t delay intersection decision

Town Manager Gerald Spates says the recent decision to seek an outside consultant to review and amend the town’s comprehensive plan shouldn’t delay the decision by members of the Farmville Town Council regarding the options being considered at the intersection of Oak and High streets and Griffin Boulevard.

“(The decision is) going to connect with the (comprehensive) plan because part of your (comprehensive) plan’s going to deal with movement of traffic and future roads, so I don’t see where it’s going to delay it,” Spates said regarding the intersection project being considered. “And I think council’s got to make the decision sooner or later as (to) which option they want to go to. It’s a lot of money.”

Members of the council have agreed to hold a public hearing Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. to gather comment on the options being considered to improve the intersection.

The decision to hold the hearing came during the Sept. 13 town council meeting.

Gerald Spates

Prior to the hearing will be a community meeting where residents and those interested can view conceptual graphics and speak with project engineers one on one.

In May, engineering firm McCormick Taylor recommended to the town a roundabout be constructed at the intersection at a price tag of $3.8 million — one that could be shared by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB). Should council members choose to construct a roundabout at the intersection, the project could see a significant portion of the cost being paid for by the CTB.

“Projects with a high-benefit value relative to a low cost tend to score best in SMART SCALE,” said Marshall Herman, assistant director of communications with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). “Roundabouts generally have a high-benefit value where there is a documented safety need. In the first two rounds of SMART SCALE, roundabouts have performed very well compared to other projects,” she said.

SMART SCALE is a process that stems from Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s signing House Bill 2 into law in 2014, directing the CTB to develop and use a prioritization process to select transportation projects to be funded.

According to Herman, in order to be eligible for SMART SCALE funding, a project must meet a VTrans need on a corridor of statewide significance, regional network or urban development area or be a documented safety need. Projects are evaluated according to six factors: safety, congestion, accessibility, land use, environment and economic development relative to cost, Herman said.

“With regard to the project in question, it would likely screen in for a documented safety need and is anticipated to perform well in the safety category, which comprises 30 percent of the total benefit score in that area,” Herman said. “With that said, in SMART SCALE, all project benefits are scored relative to the other projects submitted so it is difficult to determine definitively how well a project will ultimately score without knowing what other projects it will be scored against.”

Herman said regarding potential funding of the project, “the Revenue Sharing Program is a 50/50 cost-sharing program and applications are being accepted now through Nov. 1 … The Town of Farmville is eligible to submit candidate projects for the Revenue Sharing Program and is encouraged to apply for all or part of the funding for this project.”

“I think if you’re applying for SMART SCALE money, I don’t know how high this project will rank on safety,” Spates said. “I mean, originally the Milnwood Road project didn’t rank that high,” he said, agreeing there were more accidents at the intersection of Milnwood Road and South Main Street than at the intersection of Oak, High and Griffin. “I don’t think there’s any question about it, and I’ll have to go back and look at the data … In fact, Oak, High and Griffin’s probably one of our safest intersections as far as traffic accidents.”

Spates said — without looking at data — he recalls one accident having taken place at the intersection within the last 12 months.

“That’s my only concern,” Spates said regarding the SMART SCALE scoring process pertaining to safety. “It might be eligible for a different pot of money other than SMART SCALE.”

“I’ve had some people tell me, ‘Leave it like it is.’ … They don’t want to see (the intersection) change,” Spates said. “And I don’t want to give people the idea that if council picked this option then it’s going to be done next year, because you’re looking at probably a several-year process just to get the thing designed and go through the public hearing process with everything.”

During the council’s Sept. 6 work session, Spates said if the town crews performed the work required to realign the intersection, it could possibly be done for around $1 million.

Regarding the community meeting preceding the 7 p.m. public hearing in October, Spates said in a previous meeting “the public could come in, the engineer will be here, they can ask questions, talk one on one to the engineer (and) ask questions of the engineer about certain aspects of the project. The public hearing would be the time that the people could voice their approval of one or the other options.”

The community meeting will begin at 5 p.m. in the council’s chambers at Town Hall — where the public hearing will be held.

During a May community meeting with project engineers, only one person spoke in disapproval of the construction of a roundabout at the intersection, citing pedestrian safety. Others who spoke indicated their favorability toward a roundabout.

Before Spates offered the option of town crews realigning the intersection, engineers presented three options to council: a roundabout, realigning the intersection or leaving it as is.

An evaluation matrix developed by the firm — presented to the public in May — included stakeholder communication, intersection operation, costs of construction and lifecycle, constructability and vehicular and pedestrian safety.

Council’s unanimous decision to contract with the Glen Allen-based engineering firm comes with a price tag of $44,000 — one that’s being split with Longwood University.

According to the matrix, a proposed roundabout ranked above a realigned intersection and no improvements based on calculated criteria of public comments in favor, level of service operation and construction cost, along with known criteria, including lifecycle cost, maintenance of traffic/constructability, vehicular safety and pedestrian safety.

Factors included in the firm’s recommendation include Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) policy, which details benefits regarding right of way, environmental factors, design constraints, safety, operation and lifecycle cost.

Out of the three alternatives, the roundabout ranked highest in public comments in favor, level of service/operation, construction cost, life cycle cost and vehicular safety. Intersection realignment ranked highest only for pedestrian safety.

According to the presentation, the roundabout would cost $662,083 for preliminary engineering, $2,663,636 for construction and $463,638 for right of way and utilities.

A traditional realignment, according the presentation, would cost $2.7 million, including $480,354 for preliminary engineering, $1,801,284 for construction and $416,310 for right of way and utilities.

“VDOT recognizes that roundabouts are frequently able to address the above safety and operational objectives better than other types of intersections in both urban and rural environments and on high-speed and low-speed highways,” engineering firm McCormick Taylor’s presentation offered, referencing a VDOT Road Design Manual.

“Therefore, it is VDOT policy that roundabouts be considered when a project includes reconstructing or constructing new intersection(s), signalized or unsignalized. The engineer shall provide an analysis of each intersection to determine if a roundabout is a feasible alternative based on site constraints, including right of way, environmental factors and other design constraints. The advantages and disadvantages of constructing a roundabout shall be documented for each intersection. When the analysis shows that a roundabout is a feasible alternative, it should be considered the department’s preferred alternative due to the proven substantial safety and operational benefits.”

“Can we get the right of way? Yes we can,” William Winston, a senior traffic engineer with McCormick Taylor, said in May regarding a roundabout. “The environmental factors — can they be mitigated? Yes. Design constraints — can we actually fit a roundabout in the area that we’ve got without too many impacts? Yes we can … Safety. Roundabouts just operate safer than regular intersections. They just do. And lifecycle costs. Over the long run, a roundabout will save you money.”

According to Don DeBerry, a senior traffic engineer with McCormick Taylor, “there’s revenue sharing funding sources, (which are the) most likely funding source we would apply for in this case. There’s a $10 million cap per project for any submitting agency, and it’s a 50/50 split between VDOT and the applicant,” which DeBerry said would apply to all project costs.

DeBerry estimated that construction of the roundabout would take 18 months.

“You’ll actually be able to see the pedestrians a little bit better,” Winston said, answering a question from the audience regarding pedestrian safety.

“The grant application is for either,” DeBerry said, citing that the VDOT cost sharing could apply to an intersection realignment. “But, again, you’re asking for VDOT dollars, and we’re talking about their design manual. They basically say, ‘If you’ve got a roundabout and it’s feasible, we want you to pick that.’”