It was pretty clear that none of Fincastle’s elected officials knew that Main Street (Rt. 630) is a designated Rural Collector Road, nor that the designation coupled with a $700,000 sidewalk improvement project could mean a significant change in traffic patterns and parking in the 240-year-old town when Town Council met in late February.
The surprise came when Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) officials told Town Manager David Tickner that the federally funded grant the town acquired to rebuild sidewalks on East Main Street and other parts of town would require the town to either prohibit or limit on-street parking on East Main or turn it into a one-way street. Otherwise, the town could not use the federal money on the East Main Street sidewalks.
That prompted a lengthy conversation with VDOT officials at last Thursday night’s February Town Council meeting and a scheduled community meeting about the project on Monday, March 10, in the Fincastle Library.
The three VDOT officials explained the situation that was created by the Rural Collector Road designation and the necessity for having wider travel lanes that come with it, and the three options they formulated for the town to address what it means for the sidewalk project.
Those options include eliminating most of the on-street parking on Main Street between Roanoke Street and Hancock Street (Rt. 630/Springwood Road) so Main Street could remain at two-way street.
The second option is to make Main Street between Roanoke and Hancock Streets one-way eastbound and Back Street one-way westbound. That would leave on-street parking on Main Street.
The third option would be drop Main Street from the sidewalk project.
The last option didn’t sit well with at least some council members who have spent several years shuffling the sidewalk grant through the VDOT and Federal Highway Administration (FHA) hoops.
One of the bothersome parts of the issue is why the town learned about the prospects of having to change the traffic/parking patterns on Main Street after it has awarded a contract for the sidewalk work.
That, apparently, came up as VDOT engineers were going about completing the necessary engineering review for the federal dollars that are part of the grant.
Council member Ed Bordett wondered if VDOT could designate Back Street as the Rural Collector that runs between Rt. 43 near Buchanan and US 220 in Fincastle. It parallels Main Street between Rt. 630 and US 220, and has “virtually no parking” on it, Bordett pointed out.
VDOT Area Land Use Engineer Brian Blevins told council that’s something a VDOT planner would have to review.
It is one of the questions council wants answered, though.
Still, it may not matter, Blevins said in a telephone interview Monday. Main Street may not even meet the regular street width guidelines. “It’s fairly narrow already, and there’s parking on the sidewalks.”
Blevins said the Rural Collector status is based on FHA and national guidelines, although VDOT designates which roads get that status. Rural Collector status is slightly above local street designation and is supposed to have wider lane width, and has more traffic than a local street.
The problem would be solved, town leaders believe, if VDOT would move forward with building the Fincastle Bypass or Springwood Road Extension, a project that’s been in the planning stages for more than a decade. That road would connect US 220 with Springwood Road near the Poor Farm Road intersection, allowing most of the town’s thru traffic to bypass Main Street.
Primarily, that thru traffic involves three schools— Breckinridge Elementary, Central Academy Middle School and Botetourt Technical Education Center— along with other school traffic going to James River High School.
Moving the bypass project forward has been a challenge for town leaders because it requires Secondary Road funding and more support from the Board of Supervisors than it’s received since it was conceived. The county has had huge cuts in VDOT funds for secondary roads in the past several years, but several council members asked the VDOT officials what they could do to get the extension built.
Council expressed concerns about making Main Street one-way because they feared that would only exacerbate what they consider a speeding issue more.
“We already have people going fast on Main Street,” Bordett said. “Does that make them go faster without oncoming traffic?” he asked.
VDOT Resident Engineer Dan Collins said speeding is an enforcement issue, but on-street parking also serves as a traffic calming mechanism.
A letter the town received about the issue noted that some people are parking on the current sidewalks.
But Bordett said that’s primarily near the corner of Roanoke Street at Fincastle Pharmacy where the street has been built up to bury the curbs. He also noted the new sidewalk there will be seven feet wide and not 10 feet as it is now.
Council was also concerned about the number of new signs that will be needed, either for one-way streets and/or no parking.
VDOT Area Traffic Engineer Brett Randolph told council he had already reduced the number of signs from 60 to 30, and believed that could be reduced even more, and Collins said VDOT will work with the town on the aesthetics of the signs.
Collins said in looking at the project, one of the main concerns town officials had was maintaining on-street parking.
“We tried to maintain two-way traffic, but we couldn’t with parking on both sides of the street under the guidelines,” Collins said. “One-way traffic not a bad thing…. It jumped out as us that one-way was the best alternative.”
“I don’t think it’s the negative I thought it was at first,” council member Alan Brenner said during the discussion.
Council was concerned with the one-way traffic pattern that would make Back Street the connector to US 220. That intersection has some sight-distance issues, although it was noted many drivers will take Church Street south from Back Street to reach US 220 south, and would probably use Roanoke Street from Back Street to reach US 220 north.
Tractor-trailer traffic through town was also a concern, and how a truck might negotiate Back Street when accessing US 220.
Council wondered if signs discouraging truck traffic on Springwood Road, Blue Ridge Turnpike and through Fincastle could be put up.
Collins said VDOT is looking at truck restrictions on a number of county secondary roads right now.
The heaviest Main Street traffic is between Church Street and Hancock Street with an estimated 2,600 cars a day, according to VDOT’s 2012 traffic counts.
The 2012 counts says 2,900 cars a day use Hancock Street between Main Street and Breckinridge Elementary School, and 2,600 travel between Breckinridge Elementary and Poor Farm Road.
Back Street has about 670 vehicles a day, while the section of Main Street between Church Street and US 220 has 1,100 vehicles a day.
Prior to the March 10 community meeting, Town Manager Tickner asked VDOT to help answer several questions. Among them are:
• Can Main Street be downgraded from a Rural Connector and Back Street become the collector and, if so, does that make enough of a difference to allow the street to stay as it is?
• Does a decision on the street configuration need to be made before construction starts on Main Street or before construction is completed?
• How many one-way signs would be required, and at what cost (rough estimate) for one-waying Back and Main Streets? Can existing poles/posts be utilized? (the town will have to pay for signs)
• Could a stop sign be placed at Main Street at either Church Street and/or Water Street to slow traffic?
• Is any lane striping or demarcation required for either option (one-way or parking on one side only)?
• Does the intersection of Back Street and US 220 create any sort of visibility issues, as traffic would be channeled that way with the one-way scheme? Any chance to have the speed limit speed reduced on US 220?
• Is Main Street west-to-east and Back Street east-to-west the best route for one-way, or is vice-versa better?