Council uneasy on roundabout

Published 12:37 pm Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Farmville Town Council is continuing consideration of whether to build a roundabout at the intersection of High Street, Griffin Boulevard and Oak Street or whether to “straighten out” Griffin where it intersects with Oak.

Cost and pedestrian safety were two of the major points council members brought up during their work session on Wednesday. The topic was brought up by Town Manager Gerald Spates, posing the project as a question.

Gerald Spates

Gerald Spates

“We’re looking at … probably spending quite a bit of money to do a detailed study on that roundabout,” Spates said. “That was a request that we got from Longwood (University). They’ve agreed to give us the land, but I think, in looking at it, it’s going to be quite (of an) involved project.”

The roundabout at the intersection — busy for both pedestrians and vehicles — is part of Longwood’s Master Plan, one that lays out its vision through 2039. The plan was released and approved last winter by college officials.

“The idea would be to shift Griffin Boulevard over a little bit, which would free up some space … to potentially use for future academic use,” said Longwood President W. Taylor Reveley IV’s Chief of Staff Justin Pope in a late 2015 interview with The Herald.

Cooper Robertson, the firm that helped develop the plan, strongly recommends the roundabout over a four-way intersection, Pope said. “It’s overwhelmingly safer. The data (shows a) 97-percent reduction in injuries at roundabouts. So, the U.S. Department of Transportation (and) VDOT are really, really starting to incentivize these.”

“As a general matter, Longwood continues to look forward to being helpful and working with the town to improve the intersection at Oak, High and Griffin in order to build something safer, more efficient and more attractive,” said Longwood spokesman Matt McWilliams after the council’s Wednesday work session.

Responding to a question from At-Large Councilman Tom Pairet, Spates said the study for the traffic project could cost upwards of $40,000, and could include details on how the change would impact adjoining property owners.

“I’ll get some estimates for it if you’d like me to,” Spates said.

Ward B Councilwoman Sally Thompson asked if Longwood University was interested in helping fund such study.

“There’s two things you’ve got to look at,” Spates said. “Number one, you’ve got to look at what is the most feasible option to do. Is it to do a roundabout or to straighten Griffin Boulevard out with Oak Street, (and) change the traffic pattern?”

Spates said there were “some other options we need to look at … I don’t know how it would work here,” he said, discussing his growing up in communities with roundabouts in Washington, D.C.

“It’s going to be a lot of variables involved,” Pairet said.

Tom Pairet

Tom Pairet

“It is,” responded Ward D Councilman Donald Hunter, “because you’re coming from all four sides.”

At-large Councilman Dan Dwyer said council members ought to be reminded of the project’s benefits for the community before spending money.

“We’ve talked about it over time, but, I guess I’m a little fuzzy, in my mind, the real benefit of it,” Dwyer said.

“The pedestrians (are) going to be a big issue,” Hunter said.

Thompson asked if there was “any way we can adjust the present situation? Can we clarify it?”

Straightening out the roadway “could eliminate probably 75-80 percent of (the problem), which your main traffic would be flowing all the time,” Spates said, adding that the town needed to study the costs of moving and relocating existing utilities to facilitate the project.

“If you can tie Oak and Griffin straight in, you could make that the main traffic road, unless you got a call for traffic on High Street,” Spates said.

Pairet said that made “more sense” in his mind.

Spates said he’d get estimates on the study before the Jan. 11 council meeting, which begins with public hearings unrelated to the roundabout at 6:30 p.m. The council meeting will begin at 7 p.m.

The town also has to look at what it’s going to cost to relocate utilities at the intersection, he said.

Pairet said it would be “almost impossible” for pedestrians to manage through a roundabout. “I would have thought that if you could tie Griffin in with Oak to where you could make it like a four-way intersection, that would cut it down significantly.”

“That’s what you need to have the study on,” Spates said.

Thompson asked Spates to research what the costs would be “to take out that thing in the middle (of High Street, Griffin Boulevard and Oak Street),” referring to the large circular flower structure at the intersection.

Spates responded he’d like “to take it out … Somebody always hits it every winter.”

This story has been clarified since it’s original publication.