A small group of community members gathered at the Crozet Library on Monday evening to provide input into a project to help address safety concerns on the region’s busiest highway.
“This is early on in our Interstate 64 corridor planning process and this is our initial information gathering on existing conditions,” said Wood Hudson, a senior planner with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.
The Shenandoah Piedmont area Collaborative Effort (SPaCE) is intended to find ways to increase cooperation between communities when it comes to transportation planning.
The study is a collaboration between the Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro and Charlottesville-Albemarle metropolitan planning organizations. The work is funded through a grant from the federal Department of Transportation.
The Virginia Department of Transportation considers the area a “corridor of statewide significance.”
“We are looking at I-64 from Staunton to Charlottesville,” Hudson said. “This also will look at U.S. 250 and the Buckingham Branch Railroad.”
The idea is get a review of the entire transportation network to help traffic flow when there are accidents.
“Long-term transportation planning is something that we have really struggled with [regionally],” Hudson said.
Hudson said 8 percent to 11 percent of traffic on the road is trucks.
There were 3,140 crashes between 2011 and 2016, with 30 fatalities. That’s an average of about 1.5 crashes per day. Rear-end collisions are the most common type.
“We know that crashes are frequent on this corridor because of congestion and because of weather,” Hudson said. “Accidents tend to cluster around certain parts of the corridor, such as ramps and areas where there is particular geography.”
One man asked if a third lane is being considered.
“We have reviewed the study that was done by VDOT identifying the possibility of a truck-climbing lane looking at the existing shoulders,” Hudson said. “I don’t believe that’s gotten past the study point but that is something we will be factoring into the body of knowledge that’s being reviewed for this project.”
However, much of the meeting centered on how human behavior is a factor in many wrecks.
“I don’t know why we don’t just go ahead and fix the cellphones where they automatically turn off when the vehicle goes over 15 miles per hour,” said Donna Shaw.
Hudson acknowledged that distracted driving is a major problem.
“I know some new cars offer some of that technology,” Hudson said. “I know some of them that are plugged into cars can be set to auto-reply if they receive a text.”
Another attendee said that technology might be too late.
“I can tell you you’re never going to put the genie back in the bottle with cellphones,” Scott Bojanich, a Crozet resident who commutes to work in Rockingham County.
Bojanich said he would like to see enforcement of the speed limit and reckless driving.
“It’s the Wild West,” he said. “The amount of traffic and the amount of truckers driving those things like sports cars is mind-boggling.”
The meeting also featured a discussion of whether state police could change policies to speed up removal of wrecked vehicles.
Shaw, who works for Tommy Shull's Wrecker and Repair, said she would like signs put up telling motorists to assist each other when there is a wreck.
“A lot of times the traffic is so thick that the people in the left lane won’t allow people in the right lane to get over to get away from someone who has broken down,” Shaw said.
The SPaCE project is expected to conclude in September with a second open house scheduled for August.