A project to upgrade the intersection of U.S. 29 and Virginia 151 in northern Amherst County recently received $3.3 million in Smart Scale funding from the state Commonwealth Transportation Board.
The modifications planned include reconfiguring the intersection into a restricted crossing U-turn (RCUT), which involves closing the existing median while maintaining the north-and-southbound left turn lanes, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation. The project also includes constructing a new median opening with a left turn lane just south of the existing intersection for traffic off of Virginia 151 aiming to head north on U.S. 29.
VDOT anticipates the existing crossover median to the north of the intersection will need to be modified to accommodate U-turns for vehicles leaving adjacent properties on U.S. 29 that wish to head south.
A major crash pattern at the busy intersection comes from northbound vehicles turning left onto Virginia 151 getting struck by southbound vehicles on U.S. 29, according to VDOT. The intersection has limited sight distance and its current configuration presents 42 conflict points, making navigation difficult.
“This is a safety project and safety is very important to VDOT,” said Paula Jones, spokeswoman for the department’s Lynchburg district, which includes Amherst.
She said the intersection’s history of crashes has not been mitigated by previously implemented measures, including signage and flashing beacons. From June 2007 to June 2017 there were 34 reported crashes at the intersection, with 44% resulting in at least one injury or fatality, Jones said.
Wrecks were most commonly caused by failure to yield right-of-way, according to Jones. In addition to improving safety on both major corridors, Jones said traffic on U.S. 29 in the vicinity should move along much better with incidents expected to decline.
The project was funded through the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s Smart Scale funding, a highly competitive process that drew a record-breaking 400 applications in the most recent round across Virginia. Requests totaled $7 billion but the board only had $859 million to allocate.
Amherst County Administrator Dean Rodgers described the intersection as the most dangerous in Amherst County. Claudia Tucker, who represents that area on the county’s board of supervisors, said many residents have voiced to her the need for improving the intersection and she is glad to see the project move forward.
Chairman Jimmy Ayers said he is aware of many accidents at the congested intersection during his tenure as the county’s sheriff from 1995 to 2015 and some residents in the Clifford community along Virginia 151 have asked for whatever help could be done to the improve it.
“It will hopefully pretty much rectify that treacherous situation at the intersection,” Ayers said of the planned improvements.