Galax considers Glendale plans

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By April Wright, Reporter

Galax City Council has scheduled a public hearing tonight, Monday, to consider an alternate plan for improvements to Glendale Road.

The improvement project has been part of the Virginia Department of Transportation's six-year improvement plan for several years.

The project originally called for a realignment of the intersection of Glendale Road and U.S. 58 (West Stuart Drive) and the intersections of Valley Street and Glendale Road, and widening Glendale from two lanes to four lanes to Cliffview Road, with sidewalks, curb and gutter.

The project has faced numerous delays due to funding and state budget shortfalls, and the most recent estimate of the project is $10.64 million.

VDOT has pushed the estimated start date out to 2017. Only $4.8 million is reserved for the work.

In 2007, city council was briefed by Leo Rutledge, VDOT Urban Program Manager for the Salem District, about the continued delays. At that time, council asked Rutledge to report back on any alternatives that could lower the costs and get the project moving forward.

Rutledge and VDOT officials came back to council in August with two alternatives.

The first was to eliminate the widening of Glendale and limit the project to a realignment of Valley Street with Glendale, realigning Glendale with 58 west of the Wendy’s restaurant and relocating the existing traffic signal from Caldwell Street to that new intersection.

Due to significant utility relocation and storm water issues, the estimated cost for this project was $4.03 million, with construction beginning in November 2012.

The second alternative included eliminating the widening, but sought to leave the intersection of Glendale at its present location with improvements — including a better turn for westbound traffic on 58/East Stuart Drive onto Glendale, a dedicated westbound turning lane from Glendale to 58/East Stuart Drive and elimination of the existing westbound “slip ramp,” which forces westbound drivers to turn around and look over their left shoulders for oncoming traffic.

The estimated cost for this alternative is $1.22 million and could start in November 2011, Rutledge told council.

Rutledge also explained that if city council chose to consider one of the two alternatives, the city would need to hold a public hearing to seek input before asking the Commonwealth Transportation Board to revise the six-year improvement plan for Galax.

As there is currently $4.85 million set aside for the Glendale Road project, Rutledge said that the city could also use any funds already set aside to take care of other eligible transportation projects in the six-year plan.

Most of the council members at the August meeting said they favored alternative 2, which would free up approximately $3.5 million for other projects. City staff was asked to develop a list of other priority projects and present it to council for consideration as part of the October public hearing.

Traffic Signals

City Manager Keith Holland plans to propose that council consider asking the Commonwealth Transportation Board to alter the city’s six-year plan to include alternative 2 and add several other projects eligible for this funding.

Holland said he is proposing — as the top priority after the Glendale Road project — system-wide traffic signal improvements.

These improvements would include the installation of emergency preemptive devices on all signals on 58 and Main Street. This system, already in place in Carroll County, would allow emergency vehicles equipped with a transmitter to trigger a green light at approaching traffic signals, far enough in advance to stop traffic on side streets and allow vehicles that may be stopped in the intersection to clear ahead of them. This would allow the emergency vehicle to pass more quickly and safely through a congested intersection.

The project would also replace the overhead span wired traffic signals at Main and Washington and Main and Webster streets downtown with decorative poles elsewhere on Main Street and to provide detection cameras at these two locations.

Also, Holland said the staff recommends using these highway funds to outfit some traffic signals with back plates and LED bulbs to improve visibility, particularly for east- and west-bound drivers who have problems with direct sunlight at certain times of the day.

LED lighting has also been proven to be less expensive to operate and lowers electrical costs, he said.

Finally, Holland wants to use funds to upgrade some of the traffic signals and controls for lights on Jefferson Street — some of the older lights in the city’s system, for which spare parts are hard to find, he said.

Holland will propose that the next-highest priority project in the improvement plan be better corridor lighting along 58 from the Cherry Hill Plaza shopping center all the way west to Virginia 89/Main Street to improve safety for vehicles and pedestrians.

“There are some severe dark spots along this route, and with the high volume of traffic and commercial development, it is an area of concern for motorists and pedestrians.” Holland wants to work with American Electric Power to erect aluminum poles and underground lighting as available to give the corridor a more inviting look and aesthetic appeal for motorists entering the city.

Plans also include flashing warning lights from Larkspur Lane to Glendale to alert motorists of pedestrians that often cross 58/East Stuart Drive for the shopping center in the area. While Holland said it would be difficult to establish dedicated crosswalks and stop traffic for pedestrian rights-of-way in that stretch of road, he wants to provide as much warning as possible for drivers and pedestrians alike to look out for each other.

Another aspect of the project would be reflective markings installed in the center line of the pavement along 58 from end to end in the corporate limits.

Other Projects

Both of these projects would be eligible for the funds already held by VDOT and could be implemented within 12-18 months with the city doing the work and following state requirements, Holland believes.

“We think we could get these moving very soon as compared to other improvements, particularly since we do not believe any additional right-of-way would be need to be acquired, utility relocation would not be needed and environmental impact study requirements would be minimal, which often slow up projects," said Holland.

Other projects that would be targeted to begin within the next six years would be improvements to Cranberry Road, miscellaneous bridge repairs and enhancement projects along South Main Street from downtown to the corporate limits.

The Cranberry Road project would straighten out some of the sharp curves on the narrow north side of the road, between East Stuart Drive and Glendale Road at the Jack Guynn Industrial Park.

Holland also hopes to add some curbs and gutters on Stuart Drive east to beyond the new Hampton Inn and possibly create an access from the south side of Cranberry to serve the Crossroads Institute and alleviate hazardous situations of vehicles turning into and out of the Crossroads parking lot between the traffic lights at Cherry Hill Plaza and Cranberry.

Holland said there is not enough distance between these two lights to install a signal to help control traffic using Crossroads now, and accidents often happen during peak times as students at the Wytheville Community College branch or employees working in the Crossroads building are trying to leave. A rear entrance may encourage some to go to Cranberry and more safely turn onto 58 at a controlled point, Holland hopes.

While most of the city’s bridge network is in fair to good condition according to inspections, some work on decks and rails will be needed in the coming years. The six-year plan funds may be earmarked for this work under the plan to be proposed to council.

The amended plan would allow the city to address the most immediate concerns for maintenance to extend the life of these bridges.

The final priority project that Holland is proposing is improvements from Long Street to the corporate limits on Virginia. 89.

“This is more long-term,” Holland said. “This project will probably extend beyond the current six-year window and will require future [six-year plan] allocation and maybe some enhancement grant funding.”

He described the project as creating sidewalks and bicycle paths from downtown to the intersection of the trucker’s bypass at the Chestnut Creek bridge on 58, then some shoulder improvements, landscaping and streetside trees to the corporate limits to provide aesthetic qualities for visitors entering the city from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Holland said he hoped the projects, when planning could begin, would encourage some partnerships with commercial property owners to address some blighting conditions and encourage economic development along that corridor.

On Friday, Holland was still waiting to hear some cost estimates, but hoped to have these by the public hearing tonight.

“We hope that scaling back the Glendale Road project will not have an adverse effect from the original intent, and can provide suitable safety improvements — not only at that intersection, but in other parts of the city as well — and in so doing, move some of this work along sooner rather than later.”