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‘Smart’ funds sought for problem crossing

SoVaNow.com / April 05, 2017
Clarksville will look to improve traffic safety at the intersection of Highways 15-N and 58-E at the Route 58 Business bridge by seeking state transportation funds to untangle the flow of traffic at the busy crossing.

Discontent with the intersection was discussed during a special call meeting of the Town Council March 29.

Over the years, that intersection has seen more than its share of accidents and near-accidents from drivers who inadvertently turn onto the westbound lane instead of the eastbound lane of Highway 58.

Last month at a meeting of the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors, VDOT Residency Manager Billy Smith told supervisors that the Highway 15/58 intersection as well as the Highway 92/58 intersection were the two most discussed intersections in Mecklenburg County.

The local residency office in South Hill commissioned an engineering study of the intersection at the request of Supervisors Andy Hargrove (ED-1) and Gregg Gordon (ED-9) about two years ago. Following the study, the engineers said there was no need to install a traffic light at the site. No further action was taken.

Robin Tuck, a regional planner with the Southside Planning District Commission who oversees transportation concerns, said she’s discussed the intersection with officials at VDOT in Richmond. She said notwithstanding the findings of the engineers, officials in Richmond and in the rural transportation division believe changes are needed at the site.

“It is on their radar,” said Tuck, but the issue from VDOT’s perspective is how to pay for the improvements.

Tuck told members of Clarksville Town Council that she’s found a solution to the age-old question of how to pay for a project of this magnitude. It is too early in the planning process for Tuck to know how much the improvements will cost, but she plans to apply for funding using VDOT’s SMART Scale program.

SMART Scale was created by the General Assembly in 2014 to provide VDOT with a better way to balance transportation needs and prioritize investments for both urban and rural communities throughout Virginia.

Tuck said VDOT prioritizes road projects by evaluating each project’s merits using key factors such as improvements to safety, congestion reduction, accessibility, land use, economic development and the environment. The first hurdle to qualify as a SMART Scale project is to involve what VDOT calls a “corridor of statewide significance.”

U.S. 58, which spans the Commonwealth is a major highway and Tuck said a “corridor of statewide significance.”

Economic development projects are often favorably considered for SMART Scale. Tuck said she believes the application should include plans for extending the Tobacco Heritage Trail, which is supposed to come down U.S. 58 through Clarksville. The state considers the Tobacco Heritage Trail a major economic project. Combining expansion of the trail with improvements to the Highway 58/15 intersection, Tuck said she believes, will make this project a good candidate for inclusion in the CTB’s next six-year improvement plan.

The Tobacco Heritage Trail is a system of off-road trails for walkers, runners, bicyclists, and equestrians throughout the region. When completed the trail corridor will encompass over 160 miles of abandoned railroad right-of-way linked with more than 110 miles of on-road trail, new trail, and active rail right-of-way through five counties: Brunswick, Mecklenburg, Halifax, Charlotte, and Lunenburg. Segments of the Trail currently exist in Halifax, Brunswick and Mecklenburg counties.

Funding for a SMART Scale approved project is not made through the residency office in South Hill. It is a different pot of money controlled by the Richmond office. Money for the road work could come from funding sources established in 2015, High-Priority Projects Program (HPPP), and District Grant Program (DGP). HPPP is for projects involving a regional network or corridor of statewide significance. DGP is for projects from local governments that address a need for a corridor of statewide significance, regional network, improvements to promote urban development areas, or safety improvements.

Receiving money through SMART Scale, Tuck said, will not impact road projects approved or being undertaken by VDOT’s local residency or the county’s six-year road improvement plan.

The earliest Clarksville will be able to apply for SMART Scale funding is August 2018. The CTB will recommend projects for inclusion in the six-year improvement program in the spring of 2019 and the final decision will be made June 2019. Tuck said she plans to use the next several months to prepare the application. She’ll work with town officials and seek public input. The goal is for this project to receive a high enough “score” for VDOT and CTB to see this project as worthy of inclusion in the next six-year improvement plan.

Officials with VDOT explained that prior to SMART Scale the funding process for transportation projects in Virginia was “politically driven and opaque.” SMART Scale forced the Commonwealth Transportation Board to develop and implement a quantifiable and transparent prioritization process for making funding decisions within a six-year improvement program. “The ultimate goal in the implementation of SMART Scale is investing limited tax dollars in the right projects that meet the most critical transportation needs in Virginia.”

Tuck said she is optimistic that SMART Scale is the solution to Clarksville’s desire to improve traffic flow at its most problematic intersection, making it safer for travelers.

In other business, Council gave Town Manager Jeff Jones authorization to begin negotiations of a three-year lease renewal for the Clarksville Marina with marina operators David and Beth Diamond. The Diamonds, through Clarksville Marina, Inc., have a sub-lease agreement with the town to operate the marina located at the foot of Fourth Street. That lease is set to expire at the end of the month.

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