A long-awaited plan to improve a notoriously congested intersection in Lynchburg is moving forward after the state allocated $16.7 million in Smart Scale funding, even though the project did not receive recommendation from the Virginia Department of Transportation earlier this year.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) discussed the $38.5 million U.S. 501 and U.S. 221 intersection improvement project during a meeting in Lynchburg on Monday afternoon. The meeting was one of nine the Commonwealth Transportation Board is holding across the state between Oct. 15 and Nov. 13 for residents to get information, ask questions and provide input on the prioritization of transportation projects.
This year, VDOT received 468 Smart Scale applications across the state, according to VDOT’s Chief Deputy Administrator Rob Cary, who attended Monday’s meeting. Cary said 134 projects, which have a combined total of about $859 million, were selected from the applications.
VDOT’s Smart Scale program, formerly known as House Bill 2, is a funding system for transportation work that ranks projects based on factors including economic development, congestion relief and safety.
“These projects are about quality of life,” Cary said. “In the state’s six-year improvement plan, VDOT has about $18.3 billion allocated for more than 3,800 projects across Virginia.”
Chris Winstead, administrator for VDOT’s Lynchburg District, said VDOT received 30 applications for projects across the Lynchburg District — which consists of the cities of Lynchburg and Danville and the counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Buckingham, Campbell, Charlotte, Halifax, Nelson, Pittsylvania and Prince Edward.
Some of the area’s larger requests include $32.7 million for U.S. 29 safety improvements in Campbell County, $22.1 million for adding passing lanes on U.S. 501 near the Georgia Pacific plant in Bedford County and $16.8 million for improvements to the U.S. 501/U.S. 221 intersection in Lynchburg.
The city has applied for funding for the U.S. 501 and U.S. 221 intersection improvements in each Smart Scale cycle since the program’s inception in fiscal year 2017. City officials started looking at improving the intersection in 2006.
The intersection of U.S. 501 and Lakeside Drive is one of the most congested in the city and without improvements, it could lead to gridlock in a key commuter thoroughfare, according to traffic study documents. Between 2012 and 2016, the intersection saw 193 crashes, 44 involving injury. U.S. 501 sees an average of 37,000 vehicles per day and U.S. 221 sees 29,000 vehicles per day, according to VDOT.
The project did not score well enough to receive state Smart Scale funding when the Virginia Department of Transportation released draft recommendations in March, which led Lynchburg Mayor Treney Tweedy to ask the CTB to reallocate funds from two other projects to the U.S. 501 and U.S. 221 intersection project.
The CTB recommended the reallocation of funding for the project, which was approved in June by the state and will be included in Virginia’s 2020-21 fiscal year budget.
City officials and other local leaders thanked the CTB during Monday’s meeting for supporting the project.
“On behalf of the City of Lynchburg, I want to thank you all for what you have done,” Deputy City Manager Reid Wodicka said. “This project has been many years in the making and we are looking forward to starting construction.”
Robert O’Brien, the vice president of Lynchburg Ready-Mix and chairman of the Lynchburg Regional Transportation Advocacy Group (LRTAG), said the project will “dramatically impact” the area’s economic development.
“This intersection is in great need of revision and development and is one of the most important intersections in our region and an economic artery for commerce,” he said.