VDOT Addresses Projects in SW Roanoke County

VDOT’s Caywood addresses Back Creek meeting.

VDOT’s Caywood addresses Back Creek meeting.
VDOT’s Caywood addresses Back Creek meeting.

Richard Caywood, District Administrator with the Virginia Department of Transportation, spoke at a recent meeting of the Back Creek Civic League. Other attendees included Delegate Morgan Griffith, County Board of Supervisors candidate Ed Elswick, Roanoke County Sheriff Gerald Holt and Dan Collins, VDOT Resident Administrator.

The main issue concerning the Civic League is the status of the widening of Rt. 221, from two lanes to four, between Crystal Creek Road and Rt. 668 (Cotton Hill Rd). In July 2008, construction plans for the project were removed from the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Six-year Improvement Plan (SYIP).  According to Caywood, Civic League members see the 221 project as a safety issue.

“The 221 widening project, since its inception in the mid-90’s, has been funded and unfunded probably a half a dozen times at least,” said Caywood. “Right now it is fully funded for engineering and right of way, so basically it is a full  ‘ready to go’ project – with no funds for construction.”

Caywood said, since the project was poised and ready, if the state receives more revenue, or if another funded project is delayed, priorities could shift and construction could begin.   The current cost estimate of the project is approximately $33 million.

According to Caywood, the Rt. 221 project is clearly a safety priority, especially at Cotton Hill Road and Ran Lynn Drive, where there is about a four or five fold increase over the accident rate from a typical primary road in Virginia that carries that similar traffic volume. Plans include the realignment of Cotton Hill and Ran Lynn, so they would meet at one intersection where a traffic light could be installed.

Caywood also spoke about the roundabout construction at Colonial Avenue and Penn Forest Blvd.  Colonial Avenue is currently closed south of Rt. 419 and will reopen before school begins.  At that time one lane in each direction of the roundabout will be functional.  Colonial Avenue will close again in the summer of 2010 for final construction.

The intersection is a particularly good application of the roundabout, said Caywood, because speed has been an issue there. “One thing that roundabouts are really good at is that people have to slow down even if no one else is there. It is impossible to negotiate one at a very high rate of speed,” he said.

Another roundabout in southwest Roanoke County is planned for Merriman Road, near Penn Forest Elementary School and the site for the new library.

Residents questioned Caywood Monday about why there was funding for the Colonial Avenue roundabout, when there is currently none for the long-proposed Rt. 221 project.  He said the construction for the roundabout came out of a pot of money that can only be spent in Roanoke County on the secondary road system, as prioritized by the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors.

He urged Back Creek Civic League members to stay active in their pursuit of the needed improvement and to petition the Salem District CTB representative, Dana Martin. VDOT is currently experiencing a $2.6 billion shortfall noted Caywood.

“Our job on the local level is to do the best job that we can, with the resources we have.  We are doing less because our money is down. We are [also] seeing a gradual systemic deterioration.  It’s most alarming to me in terms of our bridges.  The normal bridge in Virginia is designed to last 40 years, and we have hundreds of bridges that are 60-70 years old.” Rt. 419 has not been repaved in a significant way in almost 20 years and is really starting to show its age, said Caywood.  There are fewer new construction projects being undertaken and most of those are federally eligible projects, which are funded with 80% federal dollars and 20% state dollars.

By law, the major priority for available funding is maintenance and operation of the existing highway system; however, there have been significant cuts in the maintenance arena as well.  Mowing services have been reduced in an effort to save $20 million, but Caywood emphasized that VDOT wants to hear and respond to concerns about safety and sight-distance issues.  Citizens should contact Dan Collins, the local resident administrator, at 540-387-5488.

A total of 19 rest areas in Virginia are also closing. Two Salem District rest areas in Botetourt County and Radford closed effective July 21st.  Morgan Griffith spoke about the rest area closings as a battle between the legislature and the governor, emphasizing that it was not a partisan issue.

“There isn’t enough money to do everything, but there is often disagreement about what is to be cut,” Griffith said, and in this case, he believes Governor Tim Kaine made a wrong choice. He hopes that next January, the legislature will allocate the money to reopen rest areas.

Another sector slated for spending reductions include staffing levels.  Starting next Monday, said Caywood, VDOT is going to issue layoff notices to about 600 people. Of those, almost 70 will be local. Effective July 1, the Salem District eliminated the contact-provided Safety Service Patrol, which assisted stranded motorists with disabled vehicles and provided traffic control for accidents and road work.

By Dot Overstreet
[email protected]