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Proposed changes to 29 North interchange face scrutiny
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Proposed changes to 29 North interchange face scrutiny

A controversial plan to change the traffic pattern at the intersection of Frays Mill Road, Burnley Station Road and U.S. 29 in Albemarle County received even more scrutiny on Tuesday.

The plan is one of the projects the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission has submitted for Smart Scale, which is the Virginia Department of Transportation’s primary method for selecting projects for funding. VDOT will announce in January the projects it has decided to fund.

People who live near the intersection have said they are worried about how the proposed changes will affect how cars and bicycles navigate the intersection.

Tom Ferrell, who lives off of Watts Passage, said he’s very frustrated with the proposal, citing a fight to get a traffic light at the intersection years ago.

“This proposal takes what had been a significant improvement for the people who live in this local area to be able to access southbound [U.S.] 29 and turns it around and makes it a more difficult situation for both us and the folks coming from Frays Mill,” he said. “So, all the benefit, really, to me seems to fall in the direction of [U.S.] 29, and not for the people who live local here.”

During the May Smart Scale workshops, approximately one third of public comments were directed at this proposal, and 92 of the 96 comments it received were in opposition, according to TJPDC.

Charles Proctor, Virginia Department of Transportation Culpeper District planning manager, said that from 2014 to the end of 2019 there were 39 crashes at the intersection and of those, 12 had injuries.

“That’s the main reason that this project was presented, because it’s ranked number 12 in the district for crash locations,” Proctor said. “So we wanted to come up with a solution that would try to address some of those crashes that we’re seeing out there.”

In an RCUT, side street traffic from Frays Mills Road and Burnley Station Road that wants to turn left would turn right onto U.S. 29 and travel to a median cut and dedicated turn lane to make a U-turn. Vehicles turning left from the main street onto the side street would have a dedicated left turn lane.

Proctor said because it is a four lane divided road, there are very few options that VDOT would consider for this location.

“The reason [an RCUT] provides better safety is because it spreads out the conflict points,” he said. “Instead of having all of your conflict points at one intersection, where you’re crossing all multiple paths of traffic every time you make a turning movement or go through the intersection, it takes some of those turning movements and moves them to other locations, and makes them safer.”

Proctor said other concepts could be added like rumble strips and advanced flashing lights, but he said they have a short life expectancy and people stop paying attention to them and they lose their effectiveness.

“In the short term, we may look at something like that, because even if this is selected for funding, it’s going to be five to seven years before it would be built,” he said. “It’s not something that’s going to come out there next year.”

It’s currently a signalized intersection, and, if funding is ultimately approved, VDOT would maintain it as a signalized intersection, both at the main intersection and at the U-turn locations, Proctor said. Cyclists would be able to cross through the middle of the main intersection.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors in June passed a resolution in support of the RCUT. Supervisors Ann H. Mallek and Bea LaPisto-Kirtley voted against the resolution.

In the last Smart Scale round, this intersection proposal received a score of 1.915. It received a ranking of 215 in the state and 27 in the district.

Final Smart Scale applications are due Aug. 17.

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