ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – It's no secret that Route 220 from Roanoke to the North Carolina state line has its share of problems. There are crashes, traffic lights and congestion, and those are all things the Virginia Department of Transportation is taking into account for upgrades along the corridor.
On Thursday night, VDOT hosted its first of three meetings for feedback on the plans in Roanoke County. The upgrades are known as innovative intersections. They're nontraditional ways of driving, such as the diverging diamonds we've seen popping up around the area. It's an approach a lot like medicine, meant to treat the cause of the issue in targeted ways rather than the side effects.
Bobby Boone was one of the about 75 people in attendance at the meeting. He's lived along the corridor his entire life, and said congestion on Route 220 has gotten so bad, it's even affected when he goes to church on Sunday mornings.
"You almost take your life in your hands to get in or out on a Sunday morning. You have to sit and wait for over 15 minutes," Boone said.
VDOT officials said complaints like Boone's are a common refrain. That's why on Wednesday night, they presented proposals for the entire stretch of roadway from the Tanglewood Mall area to the state line.
"With limited transportation dollars around the state, we're always looking at ways that we can make smaller, low-cost improvements that might have a better chance of being funded," VDOT spokesman Jason Bond said.
Planners know them as innovative intersections, but drivers would get to know them as a new way of doing business. Intersections create congestion, and making changes to intersections along the route could help reduce that at a fraction of the cost, as compared to traditional road widening.
Some proposals would create jug handles for turns, and others would remove straight lines from roads crossing Route 220 and instead force drivers to turn on Route 220. If a driver did want to go straight across the intersection, they'd be forced to make a U-turn at some point down the road.
"It's about looking at those interactions to see, for example, if some of the movements can be changed or eliminated at signals to reduce the amount of wait time for drivers around that intersection," Bond said.
Some people in attendance say the changes are just a stopgap for what they hope will eventually become Interstate 73, carrying through-traffic around their homes instead of right in front of them. While some people don't like the idea of not being able to go straight across an intersection, others, like Boone, are on board with the idea.
"I think they are (well-thought-out ideas), if they can just get them implemented, I probably won't see them happen," Boone said.
Most of the changes would be years away and have to be selected by local governments. But some are already approved, and changes will be coming in the next few years.
VDOT will host two more public feedback events on the plans. The first is Wednesday, Nov. 13, from 5-7 p.m. at the Essig Recreation Center in Rocky Mount. The second is Thursday, Nov. 14, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the Henry County Administration Building.
More information can be found on VDOT's website.