Improvement projects score well

Published 1:36 pm Thursday, June 30, 2016

Two Charlotte County proposals to improve roadway safety scored by the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) new “Smart Scale” system have been approved for funding after being ranked against others submitted across the state.

VDOT will allocate $255,691 to address the safety risks posed by the Crafton’s Gate intersection where U.S. 360 and Route 47 intersect and $789,197 to construct an additional entrance on the west side of the Heartland Regional Business Park.

According to VDOT Lynchburg District Planning Manager Rick Youngblood, the Crafton’s Gate and Business Park projects were the only two Charlotte County project proposals submitted for consideration.

“The nice thing about this, without this particular program, Charlotte County may not have seen any projects come forward. So a part of this at least gives them the opportunity to compete with other projects,” said Youngblood.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced the adoption of the projects, using the new project prioritization system for VDOT, on June 14.

Smart Scale compares a potential project’s benefit with the cost required to fulfill the request and generates a rating, considering factors affected like improvements to safety, congestion reduction, accessibility, land use, economic development and the environment, according to Youngblood.

“It actually looks at projects from a validation process, so each of the projects themselves need to meet certain measures through the scale,” said Youngblood.

The Crafton’s intersection improvement plan received a high score of 19.8 due to reduction in injuries, potential for economic development and limited natural resources impacted, ranking 27 of the accepted 287 projects.

The entrance to the business park scored 6.5 after comparing the cost to the benefits of improved travel time and accessibility as well as the amount of land potentially impacted.

At the latest Charlotte County Board of Supervisors meeting, VDOT Resident Engineer Scot Shippee said while VDOT advises and offers a ranking to the board in regards to potential projects when developing the six-year plan, the board ultimately has the power in slating projects and allotting state money.

“Before, the board of supervisors working with VDOT, would identify high-priority projects and they would utilize funding that was coming through the county through a funding mechanism. But, as funding basically dried up, less and less projects were identified or could be identified in order to be funded. But that was a partnership between VDOT and the local board of supervisors,” said Youngblood.

According to Youngblood, with Smart Scale, the influence of the “political process is limited,” the board would require “justification” for any modification proposed to the plan.

Any projects not allocated funding through Smart Scale, which pulls money from the pool provided by House Bill 1987, can be resubmitted, competing against different projects in the next cycle.

Youngblood also noted other opportunities for project funding outside of Smart Scale, which fully funds all projects passed with the amount requested, such as programs funding half of a project through VDOT and half through the locality or the Highway Safety Improvement Program and Transportation Alternatives Program through the Federal Highway Administration, all requiring different guidelines for a project to apply.