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Dahlgren Road project at Owens on hold

King George to decide whether to ask state nix it

A Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) project to widen a portion of Dahlgren Road (Route 206) at the intersections with Owens Drive (Route 624) and Windsor Drive (Route 218) is on hold until the King George Board of Supervisors makes a final decision on whether or not to ask the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) to cancel it.

VDOT residency administrator David Brown told the board last week, “We are trying to keep the project going forward. We would like the board to support it, but the board has to make a decision on what they are going to support.”

CTB WOULD DECIDE

But any decision on the project by the Board of Supervisors is not final. The final decision would be made by the CTB, which originally decided to go forward with the project. 

The CTB is a 17-member board appointed by the Governor that establishes the administrative policies for Virginia’s transportation system and allocates highway funding to specific projects.

If Supervisors decide to send a letter asking to cancel the project, it would go to Cord Sterling, the member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board representing the Fredericksburg District.

$463,000 SPENT SO FAR

At the work session meeting on July 10, Michelle Shropshire, Fredericksburg District’s assistant district administrator for preliminary engineering, was present and told Supervisors VDOT had already acquired some property in their acquisition phase, saying they were not continuing with buying more, for now. 

The project calls for acquisition of land from at least 30 property owners, taking some large and small swaths of land from businesses and residences. 

VDOT documents indicate that 80 percent of the $4.1 million project budget is coming from federal funding and 20 percent from the state. Costs were estimated at $500,000 for the engineering design, $1,500,000 for acquisition of right-of-way, and $2,100,000 for construction. 

The reps told Supervisors last week that if the project is suspended, VDOT would have to repay the federal government $463,000 already spent. They said for that repayment, they “Would look first to take funds earmarked for King George.”

At-large Supervisor Dale Sisson responded to that news, saying, “That would be challenging for us to accept that, considering we had no input on the design.”

PRIMARY ROAD

The project was largely under the county’s radar until adjacent landowners started complaining about getting offers to buy their land. Dahlgren Road is a primary arterial road and not a secondary road so it does not come within the county’s decision-making process.  

VDOT’s website describes a primary road as, “two-to-six-lane roads that connect cities and towns with each other and with interstates.”

Dahlgren Road doesn’t do either. 

Sisson asked if there were any precedents for downgrading a primary road to secondary. He was told they didn’t know of one, unless there was an alternate built and a portion of the old road abandoned or downgraded. 

VDOT 2025 STATE HIGHWAY PLAN CALLS FOR 4-LANES

Shropshire mentioned that for year 2020, the traffic projections would warrant two lanes going in the same direction. 

In fact, what she meant is that the VDOT 2025 State Highway Plan calls for Dahlgren Road to become a four-lane divided highway between Route 3 and US 301. 

The document is on the VDOT website and divided by regions. The Fredericksburg section can be found on here.

Granted, the highway plan is described as a “financially unconstrained vision plan.” That means that the projects could change and be pushed into later years as funding becomes available.

FOUR-LANES THROUGH COURTHOUSE AND MORE

Incidentally, it should come as no surprise that the state plan includes making Route 3 (Kings Hwy) four lanes through the Courthouse area, where it remains two lanes. 

That part of the four-lane project was stopped by the Board of Supervisors in the early 1990s, spearheaded by former Supervisor Jerry Goodman.

In addition, the same state plan calls for the section of Route 205 (Ridge Road) between Route 3 and US 301 to become a four-lane divided highway. 

PROJECT SCHEDULE

Some residents see the Owens project as an expensive multi-year make-work project to keep more VDOT workers from being laid off by accessing federal funds for an unnecessarily complex project. 

The project has been in the works since December 2000 when it was put through a scoping phase that lasted through July 2004. After all the land is acquired for the right-of-way, the schedule currently calls for advertisement of the construction bid in May 2013, with construction to take over a year and expected to be completed in September 2014.

HEARING HELD JANUARY 2011

But VDOT insists that their public hearing on Jan. 31, 2011, was notice enough, even though it was advertised for the wrong year, on 2010. They also mailed notices of that hearing to affected landowners, but not all whose property is being sought got them. And at least one landowner who got the notice and went to the hearing was told his property would not be affected. Imagine his surprise when the next thing he received months later was contract to buy a portion of his property, too. 

Two letters have been sent to VDOT by the board objecting to the project. The last one on May 19 asked VDOT officials asking to suspend the project or use one of several “less costly and more practicable alternatives that will have less adverse impacts to residents and businesses.”

Those listed are installation of a traffic signal; reducing the speed limit along this portion of Route 206; evaluation of other solutions based on a reduced speed limit; installation of warning signs and/or other traffic control devices; and, suspending the project.

WIDEN ROAD FOR TRAFFIC TO GO FASTER

VDOT reps Brown and Shropshire gave their reasons to go forward with the project that all boiled down to the conclusion that the road needed to be wider at the Owens intersection so traffic could go faster and not be slowed down by turning vehicles. 

VDOT reps pooh-poohed the various options that had been suggested by Supervisors. They said installing a traffic signal at the intersection is not warranted under VDOT regulations until at least 2020, according to their traffic projections. 

Besides, they also noted that a signal would increase the traffic time and increase delays on the road, saying the delays would be more significant without the turn lanes being added. 

Of course, that is just what some supervisors want to see, with their thinking that it might persuade a segment of the commuter traffic to take another route during weekday rush hours, instead of the narrow winding road. 

VDOT officials also noted that they looked at reducing the speed limit due to the high number of “angular” crashes (versus rear-ending or head-on). 

But they said to actually reduce the speed limit would require a speed study be performed on the current traffic flow. They said such an analysis would likely result in raising the speed limit, because their regs call for such decisions to be based on road design criteria based on the speed flow at the 85th percentile. 

Brown said, “The driver going through the area will travel the speed they feel comfortable.”

Sisson contended, “And you are making a nice new road and inviting people to go faster.”

It was revealed at a meeting in May that the engineering plans for the intersection are designed to accommodate 50 mph. VDOT’s Kevin Northridge said, “We use best engineering practices and we add the 10 mph – it’s still posted at 40 mph – but we design it for the individual that decides to not follow the speed limit.” 

Along with Sisson, Dahlgren Supervisor Ruby Brabo criticized the plan’s design to allow for high speeds though the intersection, saying, “If it went forward, it impedes the businesses and the ability for people to get in and out of their homes.” She again pointed out that widening the road by adding more lanes would create a wider expanse for vehicles crossing the road from Owens Drive and increased opportunity for more angular crashes. Brabo wants the speed limit lowered to 30 mph through the intersection. 

Brabo also asked why it was necessary for VDOT to go so far back from the intersection to take land to make the improvements. Shropshire said, “The higher the design speed the further back we need to go to make turn lanes.”

But Brabo’s not alone in thinking that speed is an issue all along the narrow two-lane road. It does not have shoulders and there are numerous access points throughout its length for private driveways and side roads.

Phyllis Cook

 

  

 

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