Every few years, the idea to put a roundabout at difficult intersections pops up—and usually disappears. Charlottesville’s former mayor and longtime delegate, the late Mitch Van Yahres, was a big roundabout fan, and he supported the one installed at the airport, one of the few bandied about from the early aughts that actually got built.
Two roundabouts eligible for federal funding are on the horizon for U.S. 250 around Crozet—one at its intersection with Route 240 and another 10 miles farther west at Alcohol Alley—Route 151 in Afton. Both locations “have a history of crashes, all related to turning,” says VDOT’s Stacy Londrey.
That’s why North Pointe on U.S. 29 North will have something called a super-street intersection, one of the first in the state, rather than eight stoplights.
“Often roundabouts are a better solution to keep traffic moving rather than coming to a complete stop,” says Londrey. “You’re pretty much able to roll along without completely stopping. We don’t see the backups that we see with signals.”
One factor in the roundabout rollout is legislation the General Assembly passed in 2014 called Smart Scale to take the politics out of a formerly closed-door process (ahem, Western 29 Bypass) and make it more transparent.
It allows Albemarle County and the Metropolitan Planning Organization to apply for funding, and projects are scored for safety, accessibility and keeping traffic moving, explains Londrey.
“Localities are getting on board with roundabouts,” she says. “It was the county that recommended the Crozet roundabout.”
Both projects will go to the Commonwealth Transportation Board in June, and if it okays the funding, design work will begin in July. “It’s a two- to three-year process before we see dirt moved,” says Londrey.
Bill McKechnie, who is building Mechum’s Trestle restaurant on a tight lot at Route 240, favors the roundabout at that location. “I think people need to slow down,” he says.
Not everyone is a roundabout fan, however. Helen Maupin acknowledges that 250/240 is a “dreadful, dreadful intersection,” but thinks it has way too much traffic volume for a roundabout, unlike the one at the airport or the two in Old Trail.
Maupin grew up in the U.K. and admits she hated the roundabouts there, and she fears people here don’t know how to use them.
“A roundabout doesn’t slow traffic,” she says. “It creates frustrated drivers edging out into traffic, making it more dangerous. I feel a stoplight is the only solution there.”
Others have concerns about the intersection at Route 151 with trucks coming down Afton Mountain on U.S. 250.
“VDOT thinks that tractor trailers and heavily loaded/oversized vehicles will have no issue slowing down coming off of Afton and the road grade to drive into a roundabout,” says frequent traveler Whitney Jones-Allen.
VDOT says speed reduction would start far enough back for safe braking on the downhill.
And once the CTB approves the projects, there will be public hearings, says Londrey.
“I do think there’s some hesitation, especially in the rural areas,” she says. But they’re “not as confusing as people seem to think.”
Other pluses: Roundabouts require less maintenance than traffic signals, she says. And once they’re installed, the number of crashes seems to go down.
“The great thing about roundabouts is you have to slow down, so if there is a crash, it’s not as severe because of the lower speeds,” says Londrey.
U.S. 250/Route 240 intersection
- 11,000 vehicles a day on U.S. 250
- 5,800 vehicles a day on Route 240
- $3.5 million cost, funded from the Federal Highway Administration’s High-Risk Rural Roads program
U.S. 250/Route 151 intersection
- 6,700 vehicles a day on U.S. 250
- 10,000 a day on Route 151
- $5.8 million cost, funded from the FHA’s Highway Safety Improvement Program
Other area roundabouts:
- Hillsdale Drive Extended (underway now, a city project)
- Routes 15/53 in Fluvanna (underway now)
- Routes 53/600 in Fluvanna (built in 2013)
- Routes 53/618 in Fluvanna (in design)
- Routes 20/231 in Orange (in design)