VDOT meeting on Route 60 study becomes contentious

Powhatan resident Cecil Youngblood, who moved to the county in 1971, said a proposed study’s focus on four-lane portions of Route 60 won’t help residents living on and traversing the two-lane stretch.

POWHATAN – A meeting meant to gather public input on a new multi-county study of Route 60 took a contentious turn last week when some citizens made it clear they didn’t think it was enough.

About 100 people attended one of two public meetings meant to seek public comment on a study authorized by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) of a 103-mile stretch of the Route 60 corridor. The meeting was held on Wednesday, July 24 at Powhatan Middle School.

In addition to these public meetings, citizens may provide written comments by Aug. 3 to Darrel Johnson, VDOT Project Manager, 1401 East Broad St., Richmond VA 23219 or via email to Darrel.Johnson@VDOT.Virginia.gov. Reference “Route 60 Corridor Study” in the subject line of any e-mail correspondence.

During the Powhatan meeting, citizens listened intently to a 25-minute presentation by Brad Shelton, director of planning for Michael Baker International, the study consultant, as he outlined the parameters of the study and its possible implications. The study is looking at the capacity of the road and is specifically studying 10 intersections – seven of which are located in Powhatan County.

In Powhatan County, the study will look at Route 60’s intersections with Red Lane, South Creek One, Batterson Road (East). New Dorset Road, Batterson Road (West), Dorset Road, and Maidens Road. The study will also look at Route 15 (Sprouse’s Corner) and Route 24 (Mt Rush Hwy) in Buckingham County and 29 Interchange in Amherst County.

Shelton said his company is incorporating a traffic impact analysis study with data accepted by VDOT. They will “inflate that up to 2040 to see what the impacts are in 2040.” The study takes into account different projects that are being proposed and considered in localities on the Route 60 corridor, including the Green Ridge Recycling and Disposal Facility, a landfill currently proposed to be built in Cumberland County close to the Powhatan line.

Shelton made it clear that the likely desired outcome of the study would be to determine ways to preserve Route 60’s existing capacity without “wholesale road widenings” through the use of techniques such as innovative intersections and access management.

“The way transportation funding is set up in Virginia now is competitive. We have a process called SMART Scale, and with that process, it is very difficult to get expensive projects advanced,” he said. “That is why we are looking for alternatives to wide-scale road widening, because road widenings are frankly very expensive.”

But when he opened the floor for questions, many in attendance made it clear they didn’t think a broad study that looked at multiple counties was what was really needed.

Instead, many called for a concentrated study of the impact on Route 60 of the landfill, especially along the two-lane stretch on either side of it in Powhatan and Cumberland counties.

Other major issues people raised included the general high volume of traffic traveling Route 60 on the two-lane portion between Route 522 and Cumberland County and desired improvements near Page Road to mitigate congestion.

Following the meeting, VDOT Chesterfield residency engineer Kyle Bates requested that several additional items be included in the study, including comparing the projected Level of Service (LOS) on the Route 60 thoroughfare in Powhatan with the existing LOS.

Bates also asked that each study intersection have a projected LOS completed and compared with the existing LOS, and that the portion of Route 522 from Route 60 to Route 711 be added.The intersection of Route 711 should also be added to the study, Bates said, and compared to existing LOS.

Wanting a different study

According to VDOT, the current Route 60 study is the result of bills introduced several years in a row by Sen. Mark Peake, R-22, to update a 1999 corridor study looking at the same stretch of road.

But Powhatan resident Victoria Ronnau talked about a letter that Sen. Emmett Hanger Jr., R-24, sent to VDOT Commissioner Stephen Brich on June 16 referencing bills introduced by Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-10. The two bills, which both failed, requested “VDOT do some further review of the proposed landfill in Cumberland and study the Route 60 corridor between Chesterfield, Powhatan, and Cumberland Counties with respect to traffic flow, congestion, and public safety in light of the proposed landfill in Cumberland.” Hanger requested that VDOT conduct a thorough study of this stretch of road.

“Current projections, provided by the Davenport Study, estimate the daily two-way volume of traffic to be 500 trucks for regional trash hauling, 360 local daytime trucks, 88 trips by local residents to the convenience (center), 70 trips for employees and staff, and six for vendors. The majority of these trips will be completed by trucks travelling westbound on Route 60 from Chesterfield and Powhatan as it is the major thoroughfare to Cumberland and the proposed landfill,” Hanger wrote. “For most of its passage through these rural areas, Route 60 is a two-lane roadway that residents, commuters, school buses, and emergency vehicles must use, often with no ability to detour. These facts lead to some concerns about the project and as part of our subcommittee work I agreed to request further review and identification of possible remedies.”

Another letter was sent to VDOT on July 22 by Sturtevant, R. Lee Ware, R-65, supervisor David Williams, District 1, and planning commissioner Karin Carmack. The letter reiterated the importance of “ensuring that VDOT’s study of Route 60 and Route 522 involve a comprehensive analysis of the impact on levels of service caused by the increased traffic by the proposed mega-landfill in Cumberland.”

Ronnau and other supporters at last week’s public meeting repeatedly asked Shelton and Chris Detmer, highway programs manager for VDOT, to stand by Hanger’s request for that more concentrated study.

Keith Buch of Powhatan said the Route 60 study may improve the flow of traffic on parts of the road, but the citizens are more concerned with the risks associated with so many trash trucks being added to the road.

While Shelton and Detmer tried several times to wrap up the questions to get people to focus on maps on display and submitting their comments in written form, several people in attendance demanded that everyone be allowed to ask their questions or have their say.

Some of the topics included: dangers to vehicles traveling the two-lane stretch with a special emphasis on school buses that stop along the way; questioning the timing of the traffic data that was gathered – both times and dates; the lack of improvements made to Route 60 as a result of the study done in 1999; and the focus of the study on operations and safety without including impacts on road maintenance that could be needed as a result of trash trucks.

For more information on this project, visit the project website at http://www.virginiadot.org/projects/richmond/route-60-corridor.asp.

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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