Heather Sprouse said she’s looked out the big window at D’s Market in Barboursville and seen tourists take photos of the stop sign at the intersection of Route 20 and U.S. 33.
“They say they’ve never seen a stop sign that big,” she said. “I’m glad they notice it. No one else seems to.”
While motorists may not pay careful attention to that intersection, the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) have.
In June, the CTB approved funding for a traffic circle at the busy Barboursville intersection.
The roundabout would be the third constructed in the western portion of the county, following the longtime traffic circle in Gordonsville and the ahead-of-schedule roundabout planned for the Route 20 and Route 231 intersection in Somerset.
The Barboursville roundabout is part of VDOT’s SmartScale plan that invests limited tax dollars in projects that meet the most critical transportation needs. The $5.5 million project would convert the existing T-intersection of U.S. 33 and Route 20 into a three-leg roundabout, VDOT Culpeper District Communications Manager Lou Hatter explained.
“One of the benefits of the Smart Scale program is once a project is approved for funding by the CTB, it is fully funded through construction,” Hatter said. “It enables projects to move much more quickly.”
Justification for the project included increased daily traffic, poor sight distance to the east and a substantial crash history, including one fatality in the past three years.
The roundabout would slow eastbound and westbound vehicle speeds on U.S. 33 considerably, allowing increased reaction times to offset poor sight distance, ultimately reducing crashes at the busy intersection, according to the VDOT project application.
There also would be some access management for nearby Route 738—Old Barboursville Road, Hatter said. The project would prohibit left-hand turns to and from Route 738, requiring motorists to navigate the circle to reach their destination.
“Anything that will make it safer for the citizens would be better,” said Barboursville Volunteer Fire Company Chief Wes Shelar. “We work a fair amount of accidents at that intersection and the other one [at Route 20 and 33 near the old firehouse].”
He said in the vehicle accident calls the fire company has answered, people driving north on Route 20 from the Albemarle County side tended to run through the stop sign at the intersection with U.S. 33—much as Sprouse mentioned.
In fact, her car was involved in an accident at the intersection. She was in the store, and her car was in the parking lot outside. A car tried to pull out at the intersection, was sideswiped and with the chain reaction of collisions, one of the vehicles then struck her car. “I was in the store, but it still was pretty traumatic,” she said.
In the nine years she’s worked at the gas station, convenience store and lunch counter, she said she’s seen her fair share of accidents at nearby Route 738 as well.
In 2016, VDOT lowered the speed limit through the Barboursville area from 55 mph to 45 mph in an effort to improve safety. Shelar said that helped some, but he still sees and hears of motorists traveling too fast through the busy intersection.
Since 2013, there have been nearly 20 accidents at or between the two intersections, including one fatality. According to VDOT’s 2018 traffic figures, approximately 7,700 vehicles daily pass through the Route 20 and 33 intersection. Route 738 averages 150 cars daily.
Meanwhile, down Route 20 in Somerset, progress on the traffic circle there is about a year ahead of schedule, according to VDOT communications coordinator Will Merritt.
Right-of-way has been staked and crews have started work to relocate some nearby utilities. He said the project should be advertised for construction bids later this year with a construction start date of spring 2021.