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April 23, 2019

Supervisor pulling the plug on Rt. 29 intersection plan

I can’t send anything forward that’s something the people don’t want. I can’t shove it down their throats.
— County Supervisor Chris Butler
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
For the Lee District supervisor, their silence spoke volumes about proposed safety improvements at the deadly Route 29 intersection just west of Remington.

After a nearly two-hour meeting Monday night, Chris Butler asked for a show of hands among the dozens of remaining residents who supported the suggested changes to the Freemans Ford intersection.

“Not one went up,” Mr. Butler, who hosted the meeting, said in an interview.

Without his support, the proposal seems doomed.

“I can’t send anything forward that’s something the people don’t want,” said the county supervisor who represents the Remington area. “I can’t shove it down their throats.”

About 125 people attended the April 22 meeting at the Remington Lions Club, just north of town. About 40 spoke in opposition to the proposal.

The $7.1-million plan calls for removing the traffic signal at Route 29 and Freemans Ford Road and constructing two U-turns — one north and one south of the intersection — and 500-to 700-foot turn lanes to serve them.

Under the concept, northbound and southbound Route 29 motorists still could make left turns through the intersection onto Freemans Ford Road. But, it would prevent eastbound and westbound Freemans Ford Road traffic from going straight across the highway. 

And, it would prohibit left turns through the intersection from Freemans Ford Road onto Route 29. Those drivers would use the proposed U-turns to head north or south on the four-lane highway.

A full-movement, four-way intersection has 32 “conflict points,” where vehicles cross paths, Virginia Department of Transportation Traffic Engineer Nathan Umberger explained to the audience.

The proposed “Restricted Crossing U-Turn” (RCUT) concept reduces that number to 16, he added.

“It really simplifies the intersection to make the movements a whole lot easier to make it through that intersection,” Mr. Umberger said of the proposed design.

“I challenge the thought of that,” dairy farmer Ken Smith said of the concept.

Like Mr. Smith, one critic after another Monday night contended the RCUT design would make it dangerous for tractor-trailers, large farm equipment and other local motorists. Competing with high speed north- and southbound traffic, those drivers couldn’t safely enter the intersection from Freemans Ford Road and navigate through the U-turns, the critics said.

As an alternative, Mr. Smith suggested VDOT take several measures to improve Route 29 safety near Freemans Ford Road — reduce the 60 mph speed limit, install flashing lights and rumble strips north and south of the intersection and deploy speed cameras.

Some called for VDOT to reduce the Route 29 speed limit to 45 mph.

VDOT Engineer Mark Nesbit explained that a recent study indicated a speed reduction wouldn’t be justified along that stretch of the highway, which handles about 30,000 vehicles a day.

Virginia prohibits the use of speed cameras, except perhaps in construction zones, according to Mr. Umberger.

Besides the installation of flashing lights to warn motorists of a dangerous intersection ahead, alternatives suggested by the audience to the VDOT proposal included:

• Adjustment to the timing of the Freemans Ford traffic signal to allow vehicles to move more safely through the intersection.

• Construction of interchange or an overpass.

But VDOT officials, who hosted the meeting, repeatedly explained that the Culpeper Transportation District, which includes Fauquier, couldn’t effectively vie for that kind of money against higher transportation priorities in urban areas throughout the state.

An interchange would cost more than $30 million and an overpass more than $20 million, Mr. Umberger told the audience.

“As a rural district, it’s hard for us to compete with the Hampton Roads bridge tunnel, or interchanges in Prince William, or Loudoun, or Fairfax,” he said.

That prompted Realtor and Remington resident Stanley Heaney Jr. to question whether funding would be available to construct the proposed improvements, if the Commonwealth Transportation Board approves the project in June.

Mr. Umberger assured Mr. Heaney that funding would be available.

In the end, Mr. Butler thinks the intersection might benefit from relatively inexpensive fixes — flashing lights and “more aggressive rumble strips” along the Route 29 approaches to the intersection.

But, “in my opinion, it’s fine the way it is,” he said of the Freemans Ford Road intersection. “The problem is with distracted drivers and speed.”

In some ways, opposition to the project caught Mr. Butler, state officials and others by surprise.

The Remington Town Council in February voted, 6-0, to oppose the plan. But, 10 months earlier, the council had approved a resolution supporting upgrades to the intersection.

Remington officials received “almost entirely negative comments from citizens” after details of the VDOT plan became public in January, according to the newer resolution.

Remington Vice Mayor Devada R. Allison Jr. attended Monday’s meeting.

“I’m opposed to the concept, if it involves removing the light” at the Freemans Ford Road intersection, Mr. Allison said.

He believes including a traffic signal in the proposal would win it “more” support.

“The only thing that slows down the traffic is the light,” Mr. Allison said.

Two prior public information meetings on the project drew just 10 to 15 people apiece and little reaction, even though local media publicized them and he promoted them on Facebook, Mr. Butler said.

He advertised the April 22 meeting in the same ways.

If previous sessions generated the opposition that Monday’s meeting did, “we probably wouldn’t be standing here tonight,” the supervisor said.

But, he added: “We are where we are . . . . I’ve taken your pulse; I see where you stand. And, I’ll got back to my board” May 9 and “let VDOT know what the county decides from this point forward.”

Contact Don Del Rosso at Don@FauquierNow.com or 540-270-0300.
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