Committee recommends Exit 150 plan that closes truck stop

The truck stop will go if VDOT approves a recommendation to realign the beleaguered Exit 150 interchange area—and it could happen as soon as the next two-three years.

That’s the main proposal in recommended improvements that would cost about $21.5 million and would include some modifications and additions to the existing exit and on ramps from US 11 and US 220, a “roundabout” on US 11, and restricted left turns across lanes on US 11.

This aerial photograph shows the changes that were recommended for the Exit 150 area by a stakeholders committee.
This aerial photograph shows the changes that were recommended for the Exit 150 area by a stakeholders committee.

This recommendation was approved last week by a stakeholders committee that has been meeting with VDOT and its consultant since the fall of 2008 in an effort to find a viable and affordable solution to continuing traffic congestion and safety concerns around the interchange where I-81, US 11, US 220 and Alt. 220 converge around the T/A TravelCenters of America truck stop.

The stakeholders committee includes representatives from the Board of Supervisors, businesses around the interchange, VDOT officials and consultants from AECOM.

Truck traffic around the interchange has created much of the problem for motorists who have to drive through the bottleneck because the truck stop is so close to the intersections for the major highways and inside one of the interstate exit ramps.

This is a modified version of one of seven alternatives that VDOT presented to the public late last summer.  Several included buying the TravelCenters of America and the Pilot Station that’s across US 11 from the truck stop.

The recommended alternative does not include buying Pilot.

Known as Alternative 4A, it recommends:

• VDOT would buy TravelCenters of America and it would be closed so no vehicles could access the property.

• The Exit 150-B off ramp would be three lanes. Two would be right-turn lanes. The inside lane would be a dedicated right-turn-only lane that traffic would use to loop around the truck stop property to US 220 northbound. The other right-turn lane would carry traffic onto US 11 southbound so it could either turn right, go straight or turn left at the US 220/Alt. 220 intersection. Traffic in the dedicated right-turn lane would not have to stop at the current stoplight, then would merge with US 220 northbound traffic. The plan calls for two right-turn lanes, on through lane and two left-turn lanes. The design would accommodate what’s expected to be a growing amount of traffic heading north on US 220—the area where county officials expect the most growth in coming years.

• The US 220 entrance to northbound I-81 would be closed.

• A new northbound entrance to I-81 would be build adjacent to the northbound Exit 150-B exit ramp. It would be accessed from US 11.

• A roundabout would be designed and constructed on US 11 at the Exit 150-B exit and on ramps instead of using a traffic signal. This would enhance traffic flow at that intersection. (See sidebar about roundabouts).

• The center lane of US 11 between the truck stop and Pilot and the truck wash would be replaced with a raised median with no left turns. This would impact access to the Pilot Station and truck wash since it would have right-turn-in and right-turn-out only access. The same would hold true from US 11 for the Hardee’s restaurant on the corner of US 11 and Alt. 220. VDOT would have to take some of the property where an old apple shed is now.

• The Exit 150-A northbound exit would remain open but traffic using that exit would only be able to turn right onto southbound US 11 at the stoplight. Traffic would not be able to go straight on Alt. 220 or turn left onto US 11 northbound.

• Allowances are made in the plan at the roundabout on US 11 for a connector road to be built from US 11 to Alt. 220, essentially going around behind the Pilot Station and property between US 11 and the Norfolk Southern Railway tracks.

The goal, according to VDOT officials, is to improve safety and enhance traffic flow.

Anne Booker, VDOT’s assistant regional traffic engineer, said the dedicated loop from Exit 150-B northbound around to US 220 northbound provides for better free flow of traffic because access to the truck stop is no longer needed.

There is a lot more demand for the truck stop than capacity (for trucks), so it slows traffic now, she said.

Eliminating the truck stop and many of the conflicts with other motorists will improve safety, too. Booker said trucks account for 9 percent of the traffic around the intersection but are involved in 30 percent of the accidents.

Consultant Scott Hodge said eliminating the truck stop along with the dedicated right-turn-only lane on Exit 150-B to US 220 northbound means the intersection will meet federal access management guidelines through 2034 because traffic will not back up on the exit ramp to the interstate.

The same holds true for making the Exit 150-A northbound exit a dedicated right-turn-only exit ramp. It will keep traffic from backing up on the interstate.

The roundabout on US 11 will be a new venture for many area motorists. In fact, it will be one of the first on a primary road in this part of the state.

But the VDOT officials feel it fits well at this intersection.

The roundabout will be a single-lane intersection where motorists yield rather than stop when they move into the intersection. If trucks are involved, other motorists will be ahead or behind the trucks and not next to them as has been the case with the current exit.

“It’s efficient, and the safety is better,” Booker said. “There are proven safety benefits (to a roundabout).”

The restricted access to property along US 11 between northbound Exit 150-B and US 220 would begin to meet the new federal access regulations for interstate exits. Under today’s regulations, TravelCenters of America, Pilot, Hardee’s and the truck wash would not be able to build where they are because they’d be too close to the interstate exit.

The proposal is still far from final. The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) still has to approve the concept (although FHA officials are aware of the plans) before they go to final design, perhaps later this year.

Jason Bond, VDOT public affairs official, said the agency expects to hold a public hearing on the final design sometime in 2012—and perhaps as early as late 2011.

Right-of-way acquisition and environmental review and permitting would follow before construction would begin, perhaps in the next two-three years.

VDOT already has funding for the project. VDOT’s draft Six-Year Improvement Plan for interstate and primary roads shows $22.8 million already has been allocated for the project. Some of those funds were for I-81 safety improvements.

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