Residents and businesses near the future intersection of Hillsdale Drive Extended and Greenbrier Drive are insisting that the Virginia Department of Transportation do what it can to ensure that a traffic signal will be installed to protect pedestrians.
The city of Charlottesville is overseeing a design for a $30.5 million project to connect Hillsdale to Hydraulic Road as part of the Route 29 Solutions package of road projects. Construction is expected to begin in April.
The project has been under review for years and nearby stakeholders have said they always thought the intersection would include a traffic signal.
However, an initial review by a consultant hired by the city shows that projected traffic volumes do not meet the national standards required for a light.
The city is now suggesting that the most appropriate traffic control would be stop signs on Greenbrier while vehicles on Hillsdale would be allowed to travel freely without stopping.
“I think everybody in this neighborhood would agree that a signal is a high priority,” said Peter Thompson, executive director of the Senior Center on Pepsi Place. “The new design is just unacceptable.”
Thompson and other neighborhood representatives met this week with VDOT and city officials to express their concerns.
“We have not said there will not be a signal at this intersection,” said Dave Covington, VDOT program manager for the Route 29 Solutions projects. “We have said that the warrant analysis doesn’t show that it is warranted and we don’t support the installation of unwarranted signals anywhere.”
When two streets meet, regulation of how traffic flows is governed by the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.
“That’s a federal document that guides our decision-making process on all roadway-related items,” Covington said. “It’s to provide a consistent approach to roadway design sidewalk design, bike lane design across the nation.”
An unwarranted signal could, VDOT has said, cause unintended safety issues.
“You look at eight hours of volume at the intersection,” said Joel DeNunzio, the resident engineer in VDOT’s Charlottesville residency. “You would look at the amount of delay that occurs to the traffic on the side street. At a certain point, an increase in delay causes safety issues where drivers take risks to get out.”
Neighbors insisted that VDOT and the city must take more factors into consideration.
“I think the piece that’s missing here is the human piece,” said Martha Wiese, of the Brookmill neighborhood. “You all are looking at this from a strictly technical and engineering standpoint.”
Other senior-based destinations along the corridor include the headquarters of the Jefferson Area Board for Aging.
“You’ve got Our Lady of the Peace, you’ve got Rosewood, you’ve got Branchlands, you’ve got Brookmill, and you’ve got the Laurels all within a half a mile radius,” Wiese said.
“We have people with visual issues, we have people with mobility issues and we have people with mental issues,” said Nancy Hunt, of the Branchlands Property Owners Association.
Hunt said the corridor is intended to be pedestrian friendly and that the roadway should accommodate seniors’ needs.
“If the Federal Highway Administration code does not take this type of thing into consideration then it is not a very good code,” Hunt said. “This is a tight community with a lot of people on foot.”
Albemarle County officials also have expressed concern about what happens if there is no traffic signal.
“The thing I am wrestling with is that there’s no stopping between Hydraulic and Rio,” said county Supervisor Brad Sheffield.
Sheffield is also the executive director of JAUNT, a paratransit operation whose client base includes many seniors.
“If you don’t put this signal up, there will be a constant flow of traffic,” he said.
The city will work to see if there are other factors that can be taken into consideration. VDOT will then review the data.
“If the construction were to be finished in 2017 and it’s warranted by 2019, that’s a situation where it makes sense to look at putting [a signal] in,” Covington said. “But if it’s 2038, which is what we’ve seen so far, then there’s a signal there that’s not warranted.”
One possibility is to study whether a signal could be installed that would give pedestrians the ability to activate the light to cross streets safely.
Another solution would be to install a four-way stop sign, but that likely would cause traffic delays.
“A four-way stop would be an improvement over a two-way stop,” Hunt said. “A two-way stop would be unacceptable.”