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Common sense road solution

The Local Beat column by Chris Graham
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I remember being excited seeing the word Crimora on the six-year plan.

I was a cub reporter at The News Virginian, and my beat included Augusta County government. I was still wet behind the ears, but I was far enough along that the editor was letting me generate some of my own stories.

The road project at the U.S. 340-Va. 612 intersection in my little hometown was one of my first enterprise pieces, such as it was.

There really wasn’t much detail. The project, as I remember it being envisioned then, back in 1996, was supposed to improve sight lines at the intersection, which sits between the old Sammy’s Exxon (now Mike’s Tire and Auto) and a hill that masked some fast-moving traffic coming from the north on 340.

What I recall reporting was that the VDOT engineers were thinking that the work would focus on cutting into that hill to improve the sight distance for people driving on 612 in either direction. Having made the turn from 612 in either direction many times myself since getting my license, I knew that this would be a welcome relief for drivers in the area. At least I assumed this would be the case for others, because I knew it would be for me.

For whatever reason, the project that I wrote about didn’t materialize. Instead of cutting into the hill, the work widened the road at the intersection from two lanes to five, and then the challenge facing drivers was compounded when the decision was made to increase the speed limit on 340 through the intersection from 45 mph to 55 mph. So now drivers turning onto 340 from 612 have to fight not two lanes of oncoming traffic, but five, and the cars are going faster than they were before.

I’m writing about this today, of course, in the wake of a tragic two-vehicle accident that claimed the lives of two people this week. From the accounts of the accident in the local papers, the cause was that the driver of a car heading west on 612 didn’t stop for the stop sign, leading to a collision with a truck heading south on 340 that had to be tremendously violent, given the speeds that had to be involved with both.

I can speak with experience that the stop sign on that side of the intersection is a tricky one, even for long-time area residents. I can see why someone from out of town might miss it given where it is located relative to the entirety of the intersection.

I don’t know that the project that I wrote about 12 years ago that would have improved sightlines at the intersection would have prevented this week’s deadly accident from occurring. Maybe it would have. Maybe the new intersection that should have resulted from the millions of dollars of work that we state taxpayers financed there would have put the sign on westbound 612 in a more prominent place. Maybe it would have made it easier for people unfamiliar with the surroundings to see crossways traffic at the intersection. Hindsight is 20/20 in these kinds of things.

My criticism of how this project ended up coming to fruition isn’t 20/20 hindsight. Our tax dollars were used to make a bad situation at the 340/612 intersection a lot worse, and I’ve been saying that for years now.

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