The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Will King George County pay to end project?
By CATHY DYSONWhat happens when the state wants to make improvements to an intersection but the locality doesn’t want them?
Apparently it’s not as easy as saying, “Thanks, but no.”
During a workshop with Virginia Department of Transportation officials last week, members of the King George Board of Supervisors learned they just can’t tell VDOT they don’t want a road project that’s already in the works.
The two groups were discussing plans to add turn lanes at State Route 206 near Dahlgren, where the road intersects with Owens Drive and Windsor Drive.
Residents and business owners have complained for months about the plan because they say it would take too much land and not solve the traffic congestion on the busy road.
But because the state already has done some preliminary design and engineering work, it can’t just walk away without someone paying the bill for those services, VDOT officials told the supervisors.
That means King George County would have to cough up $463,000 not to have any work done on Route 206.
“We had no input into the design, yet we’d be on the hook for any expenses tied to it?” Supervisor Dale Sisson Jr. asked VDOT officials. “That’s a challenge to us, too.”
‘CONCERNED ABOUT SAFETY’
VDOT would have to acquire 29 parcels of land to add lanes on Route 206 for motorists turning into Owens Drive or Windsor Drive. The project would cost $4.1 million, with 20 percent paid by state funds and 80 percent by federal money.
VDOT targeted the intersection for improvement because approximately 10,000 vehicles pass through the intersection every day. There were 36 accidents at the intersection from 1999 to 2010, said Michelle Shropshire, assistant district administrator for preliminary engineering.
That includes one fatality in 2006. After that deadly crash, the King George supervisors asked VDOT to make improvements at the intersection.
As the project is proposed, the new turn lanes would cut into Oakland Baptist Church’s cemetery, cause the demolition of an old store and result in considerable loss of property for two businesses.
Gautier’s Auto Body & Glass would lose half its parking area and fenced-in holding lot, which has to be secure according to its agreements with auto insurance companies.
The new turn lane would put the front door of Burgess Hauling and Excavating within 10 feet or so of the state road right of way—and wipe out its parking lot.
“We could not even imagine how much this would cost Burgess and [are] very concerned about safety,” wrote Gloria Robinett, the company’s secretary, in a letter to the supervisors.
Heath Taylor, who also stands to lose substantial road frontage, has pleaded with the supervisors several times in recent months.
“Any support you have for the residents and businesses along there to lessen the impact anything you can do, I’d appreciate it,” he said in April.
A ‘BRUTE-FORCE APPROACH’
Supervisors have rallied behind residents and agreed that VDOT’s plan takes what Sisson described as an “astronomical” amount of land.
Supervisor Joe Grzeika called it a “textbook brute-force approach that costs too much money and affects too many people.”
Twice, the supervisors wrote letters to VDOT asking it to look at other options. In particular, they asked for a traffic light with the turn lanes.
In May, Kevin Northridge, a project manager for VDOT, told the supervisors there isn’t enough traffic on the road to warrant a light.
When Supervisors John LoBuglio and Ruby Brabo suggested lowering the speed limit as the next-best solution, Northridge said the board should put that recommendation to VDOT in writing.
County Administrator Travis Quesenberry did so, and on July 10 the county had another session with VDOT representatives. That’s when VDOT told the county it would have to pay to pull the plug on the project.
“In other words, we need to put up or shut up,” Chairman Cedell Brooks Jr. said.
RESIDENTS ‘NOT HAPPY’
At the July 10 meeting, VDOT officials again repeated—at length—the process to date, including a public hearing in January 2011. They reiterated that there isn’t enough traffic for a stoplight and that lowering the speed limit wouldn’t necessarily help.
But road officials did bring a new proposal, which Shropshire said reduced the amount of property that VDOT would need by 32 percent. Engineers made the slope of the turn lanes slightly steeper, which resulted in the need for less acquisition of property, Shropshire said.
But the landowners still would have to sign easements agreements on the land, even if VDOT didn’t permanently buy the parcels. And, in most cases, residents wouldn’t be able to make any improvements such as putting up a fence, said VDOT spokeswoman Kelly Hannon.
Supervisors agreed there wasn’t much change in the overall plan. Brabo, who represents the Dahlgren District, said people “are not happy. They don’t want what you’ve proposed. They want it to stay the way it is.”
Brabo also disagreed with VDOT officials who said turn lanes would help drivers get off Route 206 faster and avoid being rear-ended.
She said most accidents are angular crashes, when motorists turning from Owens Drive have to turn onto Route 206 and head to Dahlgren or Fredericksburg.
“With the turn lanes, they’ll just have more lanes to cross,” Brabo said.
VDOT’s Northern Neck Residency Administrator David Brown told supervisors he’d like to move forward with the county’s approval. But if the county wants to stop the project, it has to ask the Commonwealth Transportation Board to do so.
If the CTB gets involved, Shropshire said, VDOT won’t actively pursue buying property for the road until the board makes a decision.
“So if there’s a decision we need to make, we need to make it right away?” Brooks asked. “All right, fair enough.”
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425