Note: This article has been updated from the version that appeared in the Dec. 17 print edition to include comments made during the roundabout meeting.
State transportation officials made their second public presentation last week of a controversial plan to build a roundabout at Wares Crossroads, seen by many citizens as the county’s gateway to Lake Anna.
The Dec. 15 presentation was virtual, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Virginia Department of Transportation staff made a short presentation and took questions from people who called in or watched the meeting online. An informational meeting was held in June 2019, prior to the project’s design stage.
Eighteen motor vehicle crashes have been documented at the busy intersection of Zachary Taylor Highway and New Bridge Road (routes 522 and 208) since 2015, but residents and business owners are divided on whether a roundabout is the best solution.
VDOT considers a roundabout to be safer, and better at keeping travelers moving. Rear-end crashes are more likely with a traffic signal, officials say, because there are more points of potential conflict between vehicles.
The state was able to obtain federal funding for a roundabout. A traffic signal was not “warranted” by the level of traffic on the two roads, VDOT says.
The biggest headache in the current intersection is for people traveling westbound on Route 208. As of 2018, the level of service was “B,” and “C” in the summertime, according to VDOT. A “B” means there is a stable flow of traffic, with a delay of 10 to 15 seconds. A “C” represents a 15 to 25-second delay.
If nothing is changed, by 2044 westbound motorists will see delays of more than 50 seconds, an “F” condition. With a roundabout, travelers could still experience substantial delays on summer afternoons, but less at other times.
Complicating matters is the fact that Dickinson’s Store, which receives significant traffic, is located at the northeast corner of the intersection. The roundabout design will prevent motorists from making a left turn into the store parking lot from Route 208, although they will be able to turn right there and from Route 522.
W.A. Dickinson, whose family owns the store, inquired during the Dec. 15 virtual meeting if the current plans for the roundabout are final. Justin Warfield, the VDOT project manager who organized the meeting, said the plans are subject to change.
"Based on this public hearing and the feedback we receive, a recommendation will be made to the district manager and at that point the major design features will be approved, and then we'll go into the final plans with all the details," Warfield said.
It’s unclear what impact a proposed large commercial development on the west side of the intersection, north and south of Mansfield Road, may have on the roundabout. The proposed design does not show access from that development.
"That development is proposing an entrance off of [Mansfield Road] that they would use until our roundabout is complete," said Alan Saunders, VDOT Louisa resident engineer, "and then ultimately connect to [it]."
Warfield said the project budget did not allow for making Mansfield Road a fourth leg of the roundabout. Instead, VDOT will ensure that the stop bar where the road meets Route 522 is properly located to provide good sight distance for drivers.
Dickinson and fellow landowner Charles Purcell have had tentative plans for several years for more commercial development behind Dickinson’s Store. Warfield said he anticipates the roundabout will be able to accommodate growth from the adjacent developments. A VDOT engineer said the roundabout will be able to handle four times the amount of traffic that passes through the intersection now.
Responding to a question from a meeting participant about how motorists will be pressured to slow down from 55 miles per hour to 20 mph as they enter the roundabout, Warfield said the curves included in the approaches are intended to slow drivers down "before it's too late."
Touting the benefits of roundabouts, Warfield compared the plans for Wares Crossroads to a similar design for a roundabout at Somerset in Orange County where Route 20 meets the Blue Ridge Turnpike.
"The difference here is the large number of visitors who aren't familiar with the area, spending a few days here during vacation season," Supervisor Duane Adams (Mineral District) said in a written comment submitted during the meeting.
VDOT intends to complete right-of-way acquisition for the roundabout from adjoining landowners in 2022, and to construct the project the following year.
Details about the roundabout are available at http://www.virginiadot.org/projects/ culpeper/522_208roundabout.asp.