On Wednesday the Lynchburg Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval to adopt a Graves Mill Corridor improvement study as part of the comprehensive plan.

Increasing traffic on Graves Mill Road could soon earn it a place in the city’s Comprehensive Plan for 2013 – 2030.
Reporter: Rachael Smith
Lynchburg News & Advance 
June 11, 2018

The future of Graves Mill Road, traversing 1.6 miles from Gristmill Drive in Bedford County to McConville Road in Lynchurg, could include new turn lanes, expanded ramps, a roundabout or even a newly designed highway interchange called a “diverging diamond.”

After local transportation officials from both Lynchburg and Bedford County identified issues with traffic volume and crash rates in the area, Region 2000’s Local Government Council and the Central Virginia Metropolitan Planning Organization began a process to study the stretch of Graves Mill Road between Gristmill and McConville roads.

“I’m real excited about what I’ve seen,” Planning Commissioner Cham Light said. “You’ve done a nice job addressing a very challenging situation out there.”

The study began last summer and was presented during two public meetings last winter and this spring at the Lynchburg Humane Society.

Bill Wuensch, principal transportation engineer and planner for EPR, the Charlottesville-based engineering company assisting with the study, said about 80 residents signed in to those meetings — many of whom live in the Graves Mill corridor.

“What we heard is folks were glad we were trying to get out in front of the development and future growth,” he said. “By and large people were concerned with congestion.”

After analyzing volume, traffic patterns and other issues, engineers have prepared a variety of projects that could improve capacity and safety. Listed in order from lowest cost, about $3 million to highest cost, about $6 million, the study has identified options that can be implemented from now to 2045 and beyond.

If the recommendations are adopted by city council, this does not mean the study’s ideas automatically will be implemented — instead, they will become options the city or Bedford County can pursue if they choose.

The corridor contains a mix of industrial, office and retail uses.

A crash analysis performed for the study covering the period from January 2012 to December 2016 identified crash patterns based on severity, roadway characteristics and environmental characteristics.

There were 142 crashes reported over the six year time period. Of those crashes, 100 involved property damage and 31 involved injuries. There was only one fatality at Gristmill Drive in 2013.

One of the low-cost and highest prioritized projects would be to widen Graves Mill Road from Creekside Drive to the Lynchburg Expressway in order to add a second right-hand turning lane onto the expressway near the Home Depot. This also would include widening the on-ramp to two lanes at the beginning, before traffic would merge back down to a single lane to enter the expressway.

Another less costly recommendation in the study would be to add a left turn lane from Graves Mill Road onto Gristmill Road as well as another right turn lane from Gristmill onto Graves Mill Road.

A large, high-cost way to address safety and congestion in the area would be the installation of a diverging diamond interchange, which would change the traffic pattern radically and remove left turns that cross traffic.

The new interchange would involve traffic switching sides of the road in between the two entrance and exit points onto the expressway, which would prevent traffic turning left onto the expressway from having to wait for a break in oncoming traffic to make the turn. Reducing the times cars have to turn across traffic, planners say, would decrease crashes in the area and quicken traffic flow.

Wuensch said the diverging diamond is very cost-efficient and is a key recommendation.

He said the Virginia Department of Transportation is encouraging localities install diverging diamonds and extra points are given on a SMART Scale application for the innovative traffic pattern.

The diverging diamond has been proven to be safer and simplifies the traffic light operation, he said,

Planning Commission Chair David Perault said he has driven through one and it was “brainless.”

“You follow the signs,” he said. “It was exciting to see.”

Planning Commissioner Robert Bowden said it looks confusing on paper but in reality is very smooth.

“It’s a great solution,” he said.

Another recommendation includes reconfiguring the intersection of Graves Mill Road and Millrace Drive to add new right-hand turning lanes on both sides of Millrace onto Graves Mill as well as new left turn lanes into both sides of Millrace from Graves Mill. However, the intersection also would prevent left turns from Millrace onto Graves Mill to prevent the possibility of crashes.

City council is tentatively scheduled to hear the recommendation on August 14.

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