PEC Initiates Community Discussion on Rt. 22/231 Corridor

During the week of April 12, 2010, PEC hosted Ian Lockwood, a nationally renowned transportation engineer and designer, who initiated a community discussion on the future of the Rt. 22/231 corridor.

For years, Keswick residents have expressed concern about traffic volume and safety issues on Route 22/231. Recently there has been growing concern about VDOT’s plans for the area, which last year included a massive bypass through the eastern edge of the community.

VDOT’s long-range plan (VTrans2025) called for four-laning 22/231 from Shadwell to Cismont. The plan also calls for changes to the northern portion of Rt. 231, from Cismont to the Louisa County line, and for Rt. 22, from Cismont to the Louisa County line, including expansion of the road corridor with wider shoulders. These proposals would require significant infringements on private property, cost a huge amount of taxpayer money and permanently diminish the experience of traveling through a unique, historic landscape. Rather than addressing complaints about fast, heavy traffic on the road, widening the road would invite faster and heavier traffic, giving today’s rural Scenic Byway more and more the character of a highway.

In response to these concerns, during the week of April 12th, PEC hosted Ian Lockwood, a nationally renowned transportation engineer and designer, who initiated a community discussion on the future of this corridor. PEC is building on its previous success in achieving a community-led plan for road improvements on Rte. 50 through a rural stretch of Loudoun County. In the 1990’s, when VDOT was preparing to turn this road into a four-lane highway, PEC brought the community together to generate an alternative vision, with Mr. Lockwood as a consultant.

In the end, the community-based vision prevailed: VDOT dropped its plans to four-lane the road and instead built the traffic calming solutions generated by the local community. In Loudoun, these solutions include three roundabout intersections and other design changes-such as landscaped medians, roadside trees, textured pavement, raised crosswalks and entrance features-that cue drivers to slow down and pay attention to their surroundings. These changes have proved a big success-significantly improving traffic flow and safety at a small fraction of the cost of widening the road.

A Community-Driven Plan

During his visit to Albemarle County, Mr. Lockwood reviewed traffic data and VDOT plans, made observations in the corridor area, met with representatives from VDOT, the county, the fire department, and the local Planning District Commission, and spoke with roughly 80 local residents, including an open house discussion at Grace Episcopal Church on April 13th.

In these discussions, local residents expressed their thoughts on what they see as threats to the corridor, on what they’d like to see preserved in the corridor, and on what they saw as missing from the corridor. All of these comments were essential components for Mr. Lockwood to consider as he spent time developing a series of initial recommendations that the community might further consider in an effort to both preserve the rural character of the corridor and create a safer roadway. On April 15th, Mr. Lockwood returned to Grace Episcopal Church and presented the following ideas for the community to discuss. He arranged these roughly from the least intrusive to the most intrusive, keeping in mind that citizens want to prioritize simple changes over dramatic ones.

  • Lower the road surface: Every few years, the road is repaved but the existing surface is not milled down, so that the surface is raised higher and higher over time. Residents commented that sharp drop-offs from the edge of the pavement lead to accidents when vehicles veer even slightly off of the road.
  • Change the pavement texture: Rural roads are generally paved with a rougher surface than highways and urban roads, but right now 22/231 is paved with a very smooth surface that encourages faster speeds. A rougher surface would make drivers more aware of how fast they are going.
  • Design bridges to call attention to water crossings. Distinctive bridges, perhaps arched stone bridges, over the streams that intersect the road would call attention to the area’s natural resources and beauty. These features would also cue drivers to slow their pace and pay some respect to the landscape they are crossing.
  • Install entrance features. Adding entrance features at the points where traffic enters and leaves this stretch of road would call attention to its special scenic and historic nature and encourage calmer, more attentive driving.
  • Plan alternating stretches of enclosure and open views. Stretches where the road is enclosed by trees and feels narrow can encourage people to drive more slowly-and when the views open up, their impact is all the more stunning.
  • Improve signage. In some places the roadsides are cluttered with an excessive number of signs, which could be reduced. Signs could also be mounted on more attractive posts, and the shiny metal backs of signs could be painted black or dark green.
  • Improve visibility of driveways. Many driveways along the road are already marked by entrance features. When landowners make their driveways more noticeable, drivers are more likely to expect that vehicles will enter or leave the road at these points.
  • Add pull offs by the side of the road. There are currently few places along the road where vehicles can pull over. Working with willing landowners to add occasional pull-offs would serve multiple purposes. Tractors could let faster traffic pass; police could pull over speeders; and drivers could stop and read historic markers that might be placed there.
  • Construct roundabouts at difficult intersections. Roundabouts improve safety because traffic slows down, instead of speeding up to make the light, and because they are configured to prevent head-on and t-bone collisions. According to VDOT, roundabouts reduce fatal crashes by 90% and injury crashes by 75%. Roundabouts take up less space than other potential “improvements” to intersections, such as adding turn lanes.
  • Discourage truck traffic. A combination of traffic calming measures would discourage the use of the road by through trucks, creating a corridor that caters more to local traffic than vehicles cutting through in a hurry.

Next Steps

These recommendations are merely the first few steps in developing an overall plan and common vision for the 22/231 Corridor. If local residents do not plan for the future of this road, VDOT will plan it for them. It’s better to have a plan in place that the community supports versus waiting for VDOT to implement their own.

In the coming months, PEC will continue to reach out to the community to determine if there is sufficient interest among local residents to consider Mr. Lockwood’s initial suggestions and pursue the development of an alternative vision for the corridor: A community-driven alternative to what VDOT has proposed. The community will steer this process. PEC will continue to assist the process, facilitating the community dialogue and discussion towards developing their own vision for this corridor.

If the community decides to move forward and develops a local plan, the next goal would be to get that plan adopted into the Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan. Once part of the comp Plan, the community will add some teeth to efforts to either oppose VDOT’s current planning or possibly get VDOT’s endorsement of, and support, for this locally-developed alternative.

Some of Mr. Lockwood’s recommendations can be implemented with VDOT’s regular maintenance of the road. Some of these suggestions might be implemented by private interests. For example, if privately funded, erecting new signs at the entrances to the corridor or at bridges replacing metal guard rails with more suitable might be accomplished with only VDOT oversight. Improving the visibility of driveways is an option for private landowners.

Moving forward with this discussion and the development of a community-driven plan will allow these suggestions to be further clarified and revised-and some may even be discarded. In this process, the community can discuss and explore the options available to fund and implement the various components of that plan.