VDOT eyes changes to improve Wards Road traffic flow (2024)

The Virginia Department of Transportation is studying ways to improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety on Wards Road from the U.S. 460 interchange to Candlers Mountain Road, a section of highway in Lynchburg that handles up to 25,000 vehicles per day.

Over the past year, VDOT has been soliciting feedback from the public on the proposed Wards Road Corridor improvements. The deadline for the public to offer input in the latest round of outreach was July 3.

Portions of the current version of the Wards Road Corridor project could face some pushback from city officials and the public. But VDOT expects its outreach and education efforts will help the public understand the reasons for the improvements.

The department, for example, was able to get public buy-in on the introduction of roundabouts in Lynchburg more than a decade ago. A similar education component will be used to explain the proposed changes on Wards Road, said Rick Youngblood, planning manager for VDOT’s Lynchburg District.

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Youngblood told The News & Advance he expects city officials will welcome the proposed changes to Wards Road, which feature new lanes in certain areas, easier turns into commercial areas, and new crosswalks.

The City of Lynchburg would be the entity to submit the application for the changes on Wards Road.

VDOT eyes changes to improve Wards Road traffic flow (1)

City officials could opt to apply for funding for only certain components of the Wards Road Corridor plan. But Youngblood said the city could improve its chances of receiving state funding if it applies for the entire list of changes proposed by VDOT for the Wards Road Corridor.

The funding would come from VDOT’s transportation grant-funding program called Smart Scale. Using the Smart Scale process, VDOT evaluates potential transportation projects based on factors such as how they improve safety, reduce congestion, increase accessibility and affect the environment.

The application period for the current Smart Scale funding phase is ending too soon for Lynchburg to apply this year. Therefore, Lynchburg would need to wait for the next funding period.

Applications in the next round of Smart Scale funding would need to be filed by 2026. The Wards Road Corridor application would then compete for funding with other project applications in VDOT’s Lynchburg District and across the state. If the changes win state funding, construction on the Wards Road improvement could begin by the end of this decade.

Prior to developing the changes to Wards Road, VDOT officials studied traffic patterns and accident history along the stretch of the highway and then came up with ways to improve traffic flow and allow motorists easier access to commercial areas.

In the survey, VDOT requested public feedback on a variety of proposed changes, including the entrance from Wards Road into Walmart’s north entrance.

As part of the Walmart area plan, southbound Wards Road would be widened from two to three lanes. A new sidewalk on the east side of Wards Road would connect pedestrians between bus stops and commercial developments.

“This potential solution would mitigate congestion on southbound Wards Road and improve safety along Wards Road for vehicles exiting [the] Walmart entrance as well as for pedestrians,” VDOT said in its survey.

Youngblood said the Wards Road Corridor faces traffic congestion most of the year, with the holiday shopping season in November and December often the worst time for traffic jams.

VDOT eyes changes to improve Wards Road traffic flow (2)

One of the more creative plans for the Wards Road corridor, according to Youngblood, is a section near Central Virginia Community College where Old Wards Road feeds into the highway.

At first glance, the design for this portion of the project might “throw people for a loop,” Youngblood said.

But the proposed design change should help improve traffic flow at the intersections of Wards Road and Old Wards Road and Wards Road and Liberty University Drive, he said.

The Old Wards Road ramp would be widened and a dedicated right turn lane for southbound right-turning traffic onto Wards Road would be added, along with two right-turning lanes that would then allow those vehicles to turn left at Liberty University Drive toward Liberty University through the tunnel.

Under this type of intersection design known as a “displaced left-turn” concept, the southbound left-turning movement of vehicles at the intersection of Wards Road and Liberty University Drive would be shifted to the other side of Wards Road next to the opposing northbound through traffic.

“This potential solution would mitigate traffic congestion at the intersections of Wards Road/Old Wards Road and Wards Road/Liberty University Drive,” VDOT said. “This improvement would also improve vehicular and pedestrian safety along Wards Road between the two intersections.”

Youngblood said this type of intersection design at Wards Road and Liberty University Drive might be confusing to drivers at first. “There was a ton of outcry when roundabouts were first proposed for Lynchburg,” he noted.

But residents have learned how to use the roundabouts and grown to accept them since the first one came to the city 10 to 15 years ago, according to Youngblood. “We had to go through an education process on roundabouts,” he said.

To address any confusion about the proposed changes to Wards Road, VDOT plans to undertake a similar education process.

Mark Hand, (434) 385-5556

mhand@newsadvance.com

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VDOT eyes changes to improve Wards Road traffic flow (2024)

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