The grade-separated intersection at Rio Road and U.S. 29 has been open for nearly 15 months and data collected by the Virginia Department of Transportation indicate the number of crashes at the location have been cut nearly in half.
“We wanted to get similar data from the past five years to see if we saw a safety improvement out there,” said Joel DeNunzio, the administrator of VDOT’s Charlottesville residency.
As part of the Route 29 Solutions project, U.S. 29 was routed underneath Rio Road, eliminating a traffic light. Rio Road previously intersected at-grade with 29.
There were 73 crashes in the area around the intersection between July 19, 2012, and April 13, 2013. The figures cover an area between Twentyninth Place and Woodbrook Road.
The new configuration opened on July 19, 2016. DeNunzio said there were 41 crashes between that day and April 30 of this year.
“We started tracking this because there were some concerns with the weaving as you split the lanes, and what we found is that this data can really show the benefits of this project,” DeNunzio said. “Better access and better flow of traffic really reduces crashes.”
DeNunzio said he will have enough data later this year to report yearly crash figures for the intersection.
In addition to the road modifications, the Route29 Solutions project included the final update of a computerized signalization system.
DeNunzio also presented information that shows a decrease in average travel times. Data collected on April 9 and 10, 2014, was compared with that collected on Aug. 9 and 10 of this year.
“That was put together after we did our final tweaking of the signal system around mid-June,” he said.
Northbound travel times between Hydraulic Road and Airport Road decreased by 21 percent between 7 and 9 a.m., 16 percent between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and 19 percent between 4 and 6 p.m.
Southbound travel times between Airport Road and Hydraulic saw similar reductions.
“We collect this data from Bluetooth devices on traffic signals so we can track cars from one spot to the next, and we’re seeing significant reductions in traffic times at this point,” DeNunzio said. “What we have out there on this corridor is pretty leading technology. This is how we’re going to start managing corridors.”
The information was presented at Wednesday’s meeting of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors.
At the meeting, Supervisor Norman Dill said many people on Polo Grounds Road have complained it is difficult to turn right onto U.S. 29.
“It’s a long wait and they’re upset you didn’t do that at the same time you did everything else,” he said.
DeNunzio said an additional turn lane on Polo Grounds Road will be built as part of the Brookhill community that will be constructed nearby. He also said VDOT can make temporary adjustments if they know when matches are being played on the Soccer Organization Charlottesville Area fields off Polo Grounds Road.
“We’re making steps towards addressing things like that,” he said.
Another component of the Route 29 Solutions was a northern extension of Berkmar Drive to the Hollymead Town Center.
“We’re seeing almost 5,000 vehicles a day on that road at this point,” DeNunzio said.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said she is glad multi-use pathways were built as part of the project.
“Every time I use the road, which is almost daily, there are people bicycling and walking,” she said. “I can’t wait for the street trees to grow bigger.”
The other Route29 Solutions projects included the widening of U.S. 29 from Polo Grounds Road to the Hollymead Town Center, the so-called Best Buy ramp at U.S. 29 and U.S. 250 and a second daily train between Lynchburg and D.C.
The first two are completed. The Department of Rail and Public Transportation is in negotiations with private railroads to schedule the latter.
Another project is the extension of Hillsdale Drive, which DeNunzio said will be completed Oct. 31.
DeNunzio said Albemarle’s next set of transportation projects soon will move into the preliminary engineering stage. The Commonwealth Transportation Board approved funding for the projects earlier this year.
They include the roundabout at the intersection of U.S. 250 and Route 151; turn lanes at the intersection of Proffit Road and Route 20; a roundabout at U.S. 250 and Route 240; and improvements at Interstate 64’s Exit 118. The others are a diverging diamond interchange at I-64’s Exit 124 and a connector road between Rio Mills Road and Berkmar Drive Extended.
“We’re hoping to package them all into one big design-build contract,” DeNunzio said, adding that that will allow the projects to be built more efficiently.
“It will be one designer doing all these, and we think that will save money,” he said.