Sunday, April 14, 2013

Elm Avenue-581 interchange improvements will relieve traffic jams

 VDOT shows off plans for Elm Ave. interchange

VDOT shows off plans for Elm Ave. interchange

The Elm Avenue interchange on I-581 – famous for its long traffic backups as motorists attempt to leave the highway southbound, headed for downtown or towards Vinton – will get some relief over the next two years with the help of a $20.4 million improvement project.

The remodeling, which was rolled out at a recent public information session, is not the more extensive cloverleaf design some might have hoped for – there’s not enough room and/or funding – but the northbound and southbound ramps from I-581 to Elm Avenue will be widened, with an additional turning lane added in each direction.

The project will take two years, beginning this summer, with completion scheduled for mid-2015. Built in three phases, the plan will also increase the height of the bridge that takes Elm over 581, by shortening beam heights. That gives trucks a little more clearance. Two lanes will be added on the bridge over I-581, where the median will be removed. The sidewalks on the Elm Avenue bridge will remain for pedestrians heading downtown or to southeast.

Jeff Humphreys, an engineer with American Infrastructure, the Richmond-based contractor, says two ramps in each direction will always be open during the day, even as a third lane is added and medians are removed during the two-year build. An additional lane may be closed as needed at night. The area will also be repaved “to make it look nice with our widening,” said Humphreys, who was on hand recently to talk about the project.

Humphreys said a traffic analysis by his firm and by VDOT shows that the vehicle backup, which often extends on to the shoulder of I-581 southbound at peak times, “will be better,” with the widening and lane additions. He knows about that backup personally: “I’ve sat in it,” chuckles Humphrey.

He estimates the project could start some time in May. “Everybody seems to be excited about it.” There were worries about traffic congestion while construction is ongoing. “VDOT is mandating us to keep two lanes open in each direction at all times during the day. It’s not really going to hurt traffic, other than people sightseeing.” Humphreys said the two-year time frame is correct for a project of this scope.

VDOT’s regional spokesman for the Salem District, Jason Bond, said the three dozen or so that showed up at the information session had questions about the impact on traffic flow during construction at the top of the list. “[This has been] a good opportunity to interface.”

It should be better said Bond, because the project will add more “storage,” another lane in the middle of the two exit ramp lanes that exist in each direction now, where drivers will have the opportunity to turn left or right. Fixing the Elm Avenue interchange has been on the to-do list for quite a while, but Bond noted the money hasn’t been there. The new off- ramps will be “wider and longer,” and federal stimulus money for “shovel ready” projects is helping to make it a reality.

The complete rebuild notion never got off the ground because of funding, but this $20 million dollar project should help, according to Bond, “at a [much] lower cost.”  The footprint for a cloverleaf design may not have been available he added. “I think anybody who uses the interchange [will be pleased]. One of the biggest concerns for VDOT is traffic backing up on to the interstate. With this added capacity it should alleviate that condition.”

By Gene Marrano

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Local Events

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