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Stop Sprawl
The Road to Better Transportation Projects

Virginia, Route 50: A Model of Public Involvement

Virginia’s Route 50 passes through historic
Virginia’s Route 50 passes through historic "main street" communities. The new traffic design is the result of collaboration among local citizens, community groups, business people, elected officials, and designers.
The segment of Route 50 passing through Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville, VA, at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains is a classic example of traditional main streets in small towns. This road was not a major truck or commuter route and traffic volumes have remained steady for a number of years. However, it began to suffer from problems of speeding, aggressive driving, and congestion during rush hours at one intersection.

Virginia's Department of Transportation (VDOT) came up with the conventional solution: expand the road into a four-lane, divided highway with bypasses around the small towns. The citizens, however, had another vision. They took the opportunity for public involvement afforded by the NEPA process and ran with it. Five local citizens' organizations came together in 1995 to create the Route 50 Corridor Coalition to seek alternatives to VDOT's plan.

The Coalition found that a four-lane highway would only increase speeding and local businesses would suffer if bypasses redirected traffic around the towns. The Coalition conducted its own research, raised private funds, and hired transportation engineer Ian Lockwood. They involved the community in hands-on design workshops and came up with an alternative "traffic calming" plan that would solve the problems on the roadway, promote local business, protect the rural and historic character of the area, and cost much less than conventional highway expansion.

Traffic calming involves the use of strategic design of streets to maximize their role in controlling speed, volume, and flow of traffic. The Route 50 Corridor Coalition's design aimed to incorporate the road into the town's atmosphere and culture while reducing speeding and promoting pedestrian safety. Instead of wider roads that bypassed the town, the solution included: entranceway features at the edges of the towns, planted medians, raised intersections, changes in pavement for parking areas, and guardrails made from natural material.

In addition to their aesthetic advantages, these additions will reduce speeding and promote pedestrian safety. One of the most innovative sections of the design is a network of roundabouts replacing the conventional signalized intersection at the junction of Routes 50 and 15. The traffic calming design received official approval from VDOT in March 2003.

The project, which received funding through the federal transportation enhancements program, is being implemented through a partnership involving the local community, local government, and VDOT. Through its unprecedented public process and review, it has produced an innovative, less expensive solution "that can be a model for the nation," said Susan Von Wagoner, Coalition member.

Photo courtesy Susan Von Wagner; used with permission.

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