Orange traffic cones lining major corridors south of Roanoke will remain a familiar sight for motorists in years to come, as the county last week outlined ongoing progress on its Virginia 419 Town Center plan, while along the nearby U.S. 220 thoroughfare, Virginia Department of Transportation planners opened a hearing regarding intersection changes to begin in 2023.
These years of roadwork are anticipated to culminate in 2024 with construction beginning on a more efficient interchange between U.S. 220/Franklin Road and Virginia 419/Electric Road, in front of Tanglewood Mall.
Leading up to the $17.5 million construction of that diverging-diamond interchange, VDOT plans to improve traffic flow and safety at seven intersections on U.S. 220 between Roanoke and Martinsville, at a cost of $16.1 million, officials said.
“This area of 220 was being looked at with a variety of projects,” said Anne Booker, traffic engineer for VDOT. “As the diverging diamond project moved forward, we recognized that if we made the improvements at the interchange, we were still going to have congestion on 220 and 419 approaching that interchange.”
Cheaper and less impactful than adding lanes, Booker said installing specialized thru-cut intersections will reroute the small volume of vehicles that cross U.S. 220 — for example from Home Depot to Lowe’s Hardware — improving efficiency for the bulk of traffic by decreasing time stopped at red lights going into or coming out of Roanoke.
“It’s rerouting 1% of the traffic at the intersection, in order to provide efficiency for the remaining more than 99% of traffic,” Booker said. “Instead of dividing the light cycle into four pieces, we divide it into three phases, meaning everybody gets more green time.”
The change will not eliminate existing traffic lights, but alter how they are programmed, Booker said, providing as much as a 24% reduction in delays for traffic travelling on U.S. 220, according to VDOT. The intersection improvements are also estimated to lower fender-benders by up to 20%, VDOT documents said.
“There’s a safety component,” Booker said. “We have a lot of rear-end crashes on these corridors in the urbanized area, and if we can reduce the amount of time that people have to stop for a red light, by reducing that we can reduce the number of rear-end collisions as well.”
Some 33,000 vehicles per day travel on the Franklin Road stretch of U.S. 220 in Roanoke, according to VDOT traffic studies. Between 2013 and 2017, there were 293 crashes in the vicinity of the planned improvements — 60% being rear-end collisions — causing 130 injuries and one fatality, data shows.
A virtual public hearing with opportunity for comment on the project is open now through May 1, accessible online at virginiadot.org/route220Intersections. Construction is expected to begin late 2023 and finish in fall 2024, just in time for diverging diamond construction.
Electric Road work continues
With years of unseen transportation planning completed, progress on Virginia 419 corridor improvements are now visible, said Roanoke County Principal Planner Bailey Howard-DuBois, as the county highlighted another year of work on the project this week.
Construction crews outside Tanglewood Mall are adding an extra lane on Electric Road from Ogden Road to the southbound ramp of U.S. 220, expecting it to reduce congestion. Rounding out the $6.5 million project, sidewalks, crosswalks and bike lanes are also being installed on both sides of the road, with work beginning last summer expected to wrap up by 2022.
“We are hoping that is complete by next year,” Howard-DuBois said.
Meanwhile nearby, construction is anticipated to begin this year on a $4.3 million project to extend Fallowater Lane across Electric Road, connecting it with Chevy Road, providing new access to developable land.
“We’ve kind of targeted that area potentially for rental housing,” Howard-DuBois said. “There is some prospective development, but nothing that can be officially shared at this point.”
Not just for the sake of traffic flow alone, the transportation improvements are already attracting new interest from investors at Tanglewood Mall. New outparcel storefronts are cropping up in the mall’s parking lot, expected to open in 2022, and several businesses recently opened inside the mall itself, owned by Blackwater Resources of Alabama, with more to come.
“We are anticipating additional announcements from Blackwater Resources,” Howard-DuBois said. “Additional announcements of more retailers and restaurants are expected in the coming months, so we can look forward to that.”