Relief coming at train crossing

Published 9:07 pm Monday, November 9, 2015

Construction is expected to begin next summer or fall on improvements to the intersection of Nansemond Parkway and Wilroy Road.

The improvements will provide relief to motorists who often wind up waiting on long trains blocking the nearby track, even if they are heading in the other direction, because they are waiting behind cars hoping to cross the tracks.

Right-turn lanes will be installed both on Wilroy Road and Nansemond Parkway, with the one on Wilroy toward Nansemond being somewhat shorter. The project will cost about $2.2 million.

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Public Works Director Eric Nielsen said the design of the improvements is about 60 percent complete, and right of way acquisition is set to begin early in 2016. The project has been somewhat delayed due to contending with a sewer main that runs underneath the planned turn lane.

“We’re trying to move as expeditiously as possible, because we know this is an important project,” Nielsen said.

However, some relief for drivers is coming in the interim.

Nielsen said the city will install flashing lights and accompanying signs that force motorists to turn away from the tracks when the lights are flashing.

“When the (railroad crossing) gates come down, the flashing lights will flash,” Nielsen said.

The change will benefit a substantial majority of drivers, he noted. A one-day traffic count recently found about 7 percent of drivers — only 267 cars — approaching the intersection on Wilroy Road turned right across the tracks onto Nansemond Parkway, while 93 percent turned left onto Nansemond Parkway.

“You can’t wait and go right and hold up all the other vehicles,” Nielsen said during a presentation to City Council last week. “You get one of those 267 that want to go right, and the rest of everybody behind them has got to wait.”

About 28 percent of those approaching on Nansemond Parkway went straight across the tracks, while the remaining 72 percent turned right onto Wilroy Road.

He said since 2010, 67 accidents have occurred at the intersection. Three were directly attributable to motorists crossing into the wrong lane to get around cars waiting on the train, only to collide with a car coming in the opposite direction.

Nielsen added that the police department has been consulted and supports the initiative.

The signs and lights will be installed as soon as possible, Nielsen added.