There have been fewer than 10 car crashes in five years near intersection at proposed Norge apartments

Staff writer

Traffic safety was a recurring concern as residents took to the speaker’s lectern during a public hearing on a rezoning proposal that would set the stage for an affordable apartment complex in Norge.

“My biggest concern, like most of us, is the Richmond Road Oakland Drive intersection” county resident Bonnie Brown told the James City Planning Commission earlier this month.

And as commission members debated the pros and cons of the proposal before them, the potential to exacerbate traffic danger loomed large among the cons. They ultimately voted 5-2 to recommend the application that would rezone 14.5 acres of land to allow construction of a 126-unit apartment complex

“I’m really hung up on that dangerous Oakland Drive intersection,” said commission member Julia Leverenz, who voted to recommend the application Dec. 5. “There are so many unsafe things about Route 60 I don’t know where to begin.”

The Board of Supervisors is tentatively scheduled to consider the application for final approval at its meeting Feb. 12.

Brown and other residents said cars moving at high speeds, coupled with obstructive vegetation and terrain, makes for a dangerous stretch of road. The apartment complex’s access road would connect to Oakland Drive and will only bring more cars to the intersection.

The average daily traffic count for Richmond Road (Route 60) between its intersection with Croaker Road and Route 30 north of Toano is 15,000 vehicles, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation. The Oakland Drive intersection is the eastern part of that stretch. The traffic capacity for the section of road wasn’t immediately available.

According to James City Police Department data, there have been nine car crashes in the 7600 block of Richmond Road, which includes the Oakland Drive intersection, from 2013 to 2018. There were two injuries among those crashes, department spokeswoman Stephanie Williams-Ortery said in an email.

There were three car accidents reported at or near the intersection between 2014 and 2018, according to Department of Motor Vehicles data. While four vehicle occupants were injured in those accidents, nobody died.

Based on the DMV’s data, the intersection isn’t among the most accident prone in the county.

Of course, those data sets don’t account for the close calls some residents described during the hearing, or unreported incidents.

Concerns among residents weren’t restricted to the dangers posed today, but also the dangers that could come with increased traffic tomorrow.

“The congestion in this area has been getting steadily worse for years,” resident Lee Alexander said. “Traffic congestion will continue to worsen.”

The level of service is calculated to worsen in some travel directions at the Oakland Drive and Richmond Road intersection should the project be constructed, according to an analysis conducted as part of the application.

Level of service is a measure of traffic flow, with “A” being the most free flowing and “F” denoting roadways that experience traffic that exceeds its capacity.

If the apartments are built, the level of service would be at least at the “C” level. The northbound through direction would drop from a “B” rating to a “C” rating in both the morning and evening peak hours.

A “C” rating is considered stable flow, though the freedom to maneuver is noticeably restricted, according to a VDOT definition of the system.

Steps are proposed to mitigate the increased traffic generated by the complex’s construction. The complex is estimated to create 912 daily car trips, according to the project’s county staff report.

The traffic study conducted as part of the application recommends improvements to the turn lane at the Croaker Road and Richmond Road intersection, as well as traffic signal timing adjustments at that intersection. The median at the Oakland Drive and Richmond Road intersection would also be expanded.

In a nod to traffic concerns, the applicant changed the complex’s access road from its initial connection at Richmond Road to its connection on Oakland Drive in response to project feedback from the public.

“The benefits include the elimination of U-turns at the Oakland Drive crossover attributable to the project (to enter the apartments from westbound Richmond Road) and a reduced demand at the Croaker Road intersection for westbound trips,” said Tim Trant, the attorney who filed the application on behalf of the project’s applicant, Connelly Builders LLC, at the public hearing.

Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, jojacobs@vagazette.com, @jajacobs_

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