18 seconds: Why the McIntire Interchange doesn’t move

Motorists trying to use the McIntire Interchange can find themselves backed up to the County Office Building as they wait to squeeze through the 18-second green light. Photo by Martyn Kyle Motorists trying to use the McIntire Interchange can find themselves backed up to the County Office Building as they wait to squeeze through the 18-second green light. Photo by Martyn Kyle

On September 9, C-VILLE reported that many citizens felt the recently opened $33.6 million McIntire Interchange was a “disaster” and that traffic was worse than before the pricey project was built. City officials said they were adjusting the timing on the lights both at McIntire and at Park Street September 3, and, three weeks later, regular users of those roads report little difference.

One problem: Traffic going north on McIntire Road or south on the John Warner Parkway gets a whopping 18 seconds to get through the first green light, with the second light green a total of 35 seconds.

“That’s reasonable if you’re one of the first five cars, but if you’re 35 or 50 cars back in the queue that is not reasonable,” says Mike Farruggio, who worked on an interchange steering committee for two years that recommended two roundabouts, a plan City Council rejected.

The interchange was supposed to ease the flow of traffic from Rio Road to the U.S. 250 Bypass and get traffic off streets like Park. “You get stuck for long waits and stopped with no cars coming at all,” says Farruggio. With the availability of smart traffic technology, he says, “There are no excuses. Anywhere in the city at 6am you shouldn’t be sitting at a light for 45 seconds with no traffic coming. It’s just ridiculous.”

Jeanette Janiczek, the city’s program manager for the McIntire Interchange, confirms the 18 seconds and says the priority is to keep the ramps from backing up onto U.S. 250, while the lights installed on Park Street are designed to keep that street moving.

Residents argue that’s not happening. “There are cars lined up, ” says Gail South, who lives off Park Street. “There’s no one coming and they’re sitting stopped.”

South says she never had to wait before the lights were installed in June. “It’s worse than before,” she says. “It’s hard to believe that a city that touts progressive attitudes and environmentalism would cause such unnecessary carbon spewing.”

Anne Hemenway, who lives on Park, concurs. She’s come up with her own solution to deal with the 18-second light at McIntire when trying to head west on the bypass. She takes the ramp to the right onto Park, goes left and circles back onto the bypass. “We got onto the bridge faster than people waiting at McIntire,” she says.

“Since our adjustment on September 3, it seems as though the signals are working more efficiently, and the number of complaints have diminished,” says City Manager Maurice Jones in an e-mail. He promises continued  monitoring and tweaking.

Former mayor Blake Caravati was one of three councilors who voted for the parkway “and to this day, I still get crap about it,” he says. “My impression is it’s working well, except for the lights at Park Street.”

Not everyone sees that as a problem. City Councilor Kathy Galvin, who lives off Park Street, says she’s received positive comments from pedestrians and dog walkers who find it safer to cross the street. She points out that Park should be more pedestrian oriented, while the John Warner Parkway is more for vehicles. “I’m amazed Park Street is turning into a pleasant street again,” she says.

Galvin says she’s heard no complaints about the McIntire Interchange, and that adjusting people’s work schedules could alleviate congestion.

“Both the McIntire Interchange and Park Street Interchange are operating as designed and intended,” says Janiczek. She said a final timing adjustment on the interchange based on video of traffic will take place soon.

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