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Getting There: Red-arrow turn rules not so clear



WHO WOULD have thought a simple question about left and right turns would lead to so much trouble? In last week’s column I fell asleep at the wheel or was it a case of distracted reporting?

Whatever it was, hopefully this mess can be cleared up.

One question focused on making left turns or U-turns on red lights. The answer last week that you can’t was correct for the most part, but wrong on one point. On the other point in the column—making right turns on red traffic light arrows—the answer is less clear.

So here’s the deal.

First, in this corner of the civilized world you can—I repeat, you can—make a left turn on red: It can be done from a one-way street onto another one-way street. You won’t find many places where you can do this, but there are several intersections in Fredericksburg where you can.

Now for right turns on red arrow lights.

The Department of Motor Vehicles manual says, no, you can’t make either right or left turns when the arrow is red. The Virginia Department of Transportation last week said drivers can make right turns on red arrows.

VDOT based the answer on the Code of Virginia, 46.2–835, which reads, in part, that “except where signs are placed prohibiting turns on steady red, vehicular traffic facing a steady red signal, after coming to a full stop, may cautiously enter the intersection and make a right turn.”

Here’s what the police say, and they’re the ones who matter because they can give you a ticket.

“It’s about as clear as mud,” said Virginia State Police Sgt. Les Tyler.

He said common sense tells him that a red arrow would mean you shouldn’t turn. But he said state code trumps all, and there is nothing in it about what a driver can do at red arrows.

So it looks like you can turn right on a red arrow.

But the red arrow is confusing, so it’s a good thing VDOT has decided to get rid of the them. In the meantime, if you come to a red arrow in a right-turn lane and want to turn, just make sure no traffic or pedestrians are coming.

Dear Scott: Heading north on U.S. 1, just after you go over the Falmouth Bridge, West Cambridge Street (leading to Washington Street) intersects with U.S. 1 on the left. I don’t have to mention how much traffic routinely backs up here.

When drivers try to make a left turn onto West Cambridge, it makes the backup even worse. Has there ever been any consideration of prohibiting left turns there?

If not, could this possibility be evaluated?

As construction begins on that intersection, it is going to get much worse before it gets better, and this may be a good first step in helping drivers think about changing their routines and help minimize the chaos.

—Elaine Diepenbrock, Stafford

One quick answer to this question is that the turn will vanish when the intersection is reconstructed because a median will be added to U.S. 1 at West Cambridge Street, according to VDOT’s Kelly Hannon.

When the project is complete, only southbound traffic will be allowed to turn (right) onto the side street.

That’s some time away.

Construction won’t start until 2014 at the earliest. You might see some work being done at the intersection later this year, but that won’t be road building. Instead, it’ll be building demolition, as several structures, including houses, will be razed for the project.

In the meantime, the turn will remain, but VDOT is considering a ban on that left turn when construction starts on the intersection.


Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436