Future Hokies and Blacksburg residents may not have to suffer through game-day traffic congestion that typically plagues U.S. 460.
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) held a public input meeting on Monday night for their latest project to replace the existing intersection of U.S. 460 and Southgate Drive with a more efficient interchange.
VDOT is calling the new interchange the Southgate Connector, and while plans were developed for it in 2011, the need for improvements to the existing intersection has been a regional priority since 2002. The project is estimated to cost $46.7 million, is expected to begin in 2015 and will require roughly 24-30 months of construction.
The project is intended to improve safety at this .925-mile section of the U.S. 460 bypass while reducing the traffic congestion that typically builds up at the intersection due to its traffic lights and reduced speed limit.
With dozens of community members attending the public input meeting, VDOT Project Manager Phillip Hammack said that most of the comments had been very positive, with most attendees simply being content with a plan that would eliminate the current traffic pattern caused by the traffic light at the intersection. Public input from the meeting will play a role in redesigns to the project.
“The main thing is to share information with the public and elicit some input from them,” said Hammack. “Sometimes we get really good input because folks that come here (live here), they use it, they know it. Sometimes there are things that we miss.”
The intersection is currently defined as being at-grade, meaning that the intersection aligns at the same height (or grade), thus requiring a traffic management device for the intersection to function — in this case, a traffic light on all three sides of the intersection.
The project intends to replace this intersection with a grade-separated interchange, meaning the junction for U.S. 460 and Southgate Drive would be separated by their heights, thereby allowing traffic to flow more smoothly and with minimized interruption through the interchange. The proposed grade separation would be a diverging diamond interchange, a relatively new interchange that has just started to be developed and applied in the past five years.
The project will create two bridges running across U.S. 460. In order to complete the project, portions of Southgate Drive will be relocated, along with portions of the Huckleberry Trail.
Laura Mehiel, an AMT Engineering Services project engineer involved in the new interchange, noted that most of the input she had heard while talking with the community revolved around changes to the Huckleberry Trail, with most observers showing excitement over the redesigned portion of the trail.
With the proposed changes, Southgate Drive would be a four-lane section with 12-foot lanes, a raised median and curbs. The new section of the Huckleberry Trail would have a 10-foot paved path with a graded crossing at the U.S. 460 bypass. Additionally, roundabouts would be created for Southgate Drive’s intersections with Research Center Drive and Duck Pond Drive.
Since 2009, the .925-mile stretch of U.S. 460 has seen 110 total crashes, according to VDOT’s analysis, with 27 of them resulting in injuries. VDOT expects this number to decrease as a result of the new interchange.
After the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved the location of the project last July, VDOT worked with the Federal Highway Administration on an environmental assessment of the new interchange. The assessment forecasted that traffic demands for the interchange would increase by 84 percent, one of the many factors that justify a more expedient traffic junction.
After the comment period ends at the end of October, Hammack says public input will be collected and considered, and they aim for the design to be approved by January 2014. From there, VDOTs anticipates to acquire the right of way to construct in the area by February 2014, and to begin advertising for construction services by the following December.