Is the roundabout really a done deal?
In January 2018, a meeting was held at Town Hall where the VDOT representative from Lynchburg, Gerry Harter, advised against a roundabout at the intersection of Oak, Griffin and High Streets, citing:
1) low number of accidents at that intersection (eight accidents in the past six years)
2) high pedestrian traffic
3) difficulty for tractor trailers using such a roundabout
4) possibility for increased driver confusion
5) roundabouts are expensive
6) is a roundabout being installed just because it would look nice?
Now, Longwood University is again flexing its muscles as a state university to influence the decision as to what to do to improve this intersection.
From the get-go, President Reveley showcased the roundabout in his “Master Plan” of 2013, as part of his so called “New Urbanism” for Longwood and Farmville. It was Longwood that requested McCormick Taylor do a study on the proposed roundabout in question. This is the same traffic engineering firm that recommended that a road exiting a proposed 120 apartment complex onto South Main Street at the Milnwood intersection, would be perfectly OK, without restricting left hand turns.
At the January 2018, meeting with (former) Town Manager Gerry Spates, some members of the Town Council, Harter from VDOT, and representatives from Longwood; Justin Pope, chief of staff at Longwood stated that “Safety is the No. 1 priority for the University,” when in fact, the record shows that there were very few incidents at that intersection. In spite of the facts, the University has continued pushing for the project, and somehow has been able to convince VDOT to change their original opinion on the roundabout proposal, citing the study done by none other than McCormick Taylor.
According to a study done by Ohio State University, the number of pedestrians killed or injured while looking at their cellphones has drastically increased nationwide. Data from the National Highway Safety Administration shows that 5,000 pedestrians were killed in traffic collisions in the United States in 2012 alone, and the number is increasing at an alarming rate. However, it is not clear how many of these pedestrian fatalities were due to walking and texting or other cellphone use. Suffice it to say, being distracted while walking can be dangerous.
In 2016, Channel 8 News did a study on some of the older roundabouts in the Richmond area. They analyzed reports for five years before and five years after, and they found that in almost every case there was a slight increase in crashes after the roundabouts were constructed.
It has been estimated that the roundabout would come with a price tag of about $3.8 million and would take up to 18 months to complete. By the time this project goes through all the reviews and red tape, that cost might very well balloon to $5 million and take over two years to complete.
However you slice it, the residents of Farmville will ultimately pay for it, grants and donations notwithstanding. Whether the money comes from our state taxes or from our Farmville real estate taxes, we will bear the burden and the inconvenience. And why, you might ask? All because the president of Longwood included it in the Master Plan, and because it looks nice —the grand western entrance to the University.
Ironically, the University doesn’t pay real estate taxes, and Reveley lives in Richmond, rather than residing at the president’s house in historic Farmville.
It is my opinion that a roundabout at this location would not be in the best interest of the people of Farmville, and rather that a realignment would be in order. I do not think that our town’s many seniors and others navigating through a roundabout with students crossing the roads while distracted on their cellphones, would be a good recipe for safety. And, the money could be better spent elsewhere in our town.
JAMES FAUCI is a resident of Farmville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.