Residents share concerns about road work

Published 10:24 pm Thursday, August 29, 2019

Residents turned out for a public information meeting Wednesday on proposed road work on Nansemond Parkway near Nansemond River High School, sharing their concerns and offering suggestions to project officials.

Sharrell Harris, who grew up attending St. Mary’s Church of God in Christ as 3637 Nansemond Parkway, near the intersection with Sportsman Boulevard, said she is concerned about traffic impacting her church.

“My big concern is we already have traffic on Nansemond Parkway when we have our services,” Harris said. “Now they’re building a road only 40-some feet on the other side of our church. And that’s going to be noise and more tear and wear on our church during the services.”

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The preferred plan calls for rerouting Bennetts Pasture Road to realign with Sportsman Boulevard and cut between St. Mary’s and Tabernacle Baptist Outreach Center. It would also eliminate the current traffic signal at the high school and move it to Sleepy Hole Road, providing access to the neighborhoods along the road, access to the school and for future developments for a regional athletic facility.

Public Works Director L.J. Hansen, who said meetings were held with the churches several months ago, said there is enough separation between St. Mary’s and Tabernacle to make that part of the project work. Hansen said suggestions of moving the intersection to another place re-creates the existing problem in another spot.

“We’re certainly hearing from a number of members of the churches,” Hansen said. “And they have concerns, and I think they’re valid concerns. The issues are, is there enough separation between the two churches to add the road? We believe that there is. And some of the members of the congregations, they don’t believe that there is.

“The reality is, this is a very good spot for Bennetts Pasture to tie in, and that’s because there already is an intersection with Sportsman’s. It creates the necessary distance from Sleepy Hole to allow vehicles to be able to maneuver correctly, to have appropriate signal timings, to be able to work throughout the corridor. And we feel like that’s the way that it should work, and we feel that that is a logical connection.”

Hansen said the project is in the design phase, and that is about 60 percent complete. He said the feedback gathered from the meeting would be used to make tweaks to the design, where possible.

Once tweaks are made and the design phase moves to about 90 percent completion, City Council will hold a public hearing on the project — likely in late 2019 or early 2020 — and it would have to vote on whether to authorize the purchase any right-of-way or easements necessary for the project. Hansen said the greatest impacts would be to land behind and between the churches.

At that point, Hansen said the city would go to the Virginia Department of Transportation and seek the funding for the project, which is estimated to cost around $11.1 million.

The project, if it received all the go-aheads, would not begin until sometime in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, he said.

Hansen said the work is needed to alleviate increased traffic at peak hours, and said there have been numerous accidents in a mile-long stretch in the area where the work is proposed.

In 2018, there were 12 accidents resulting in eight injuries in that area of Nansemond Parkway, according to Department of Motor Vehicles crash data. Through the end of July this year, there had been eight accidents with eight injuries in the same area.

Velma Taylor, who lives in the project area, said she is most concerned about the intersection near the high school, and the problem of turning into driveways. She also wants the speed limit in the stretch lowered to 35 miles per hour.

“It seems that, the traffic now, there’s not going to be a light,” Taylor said. “It’s going to be further down Bennetts Pasture Road there, which means to me that the traffic is going to be even sturdier, faster, and I’ve been impacted twice, rear-ended twice already because it’s that busy on (Nansemond Parkway).”

Hansen said project officials considered five possible designs for the project, but ruled out all but one because of heavy wetland impacts or not creating the desired effect of separating the intersections.

The scope of the work would go east from the high school to about 900 feet east of the intersection of Nansemond Parkway and Sportsman Boulevard. The high school entrance and the intersections with Sleepy Hole Road, Bennetts Pasture Road and Sportsman Boulevard are include in the scope of the project, along with a section of Bennetts Pasture Road near the Nansemond Pre-Cast Concrete facility.

“This design is the one that we came up with,” Hansen said. “We think it is a good design. It does what we’re trying to do. It eliminates one of the intersections at the high school, and it also creates the ability for folks who are trying to access Sleepy Hole (Road) or Nansemond Parkway to be able to make safe movements and to not have that through-traffic that could be coming up on their rear-end of them. And that’s really the issue here. It’s about safety.”

Harris said he believes the project is a done deal with the design that was on display.

“I feel like with them being at 60 percent, they haven’t really looked at what we said,” Harris said. “You’re here to tell us, this is what we’re going to do, and we’re going to have to accept it. They say no, but we know that’s not true.”

Hansen said he is working with the project designers to minimize impacts to the churches.

“We’ll see which comments we can address and kind of go from there,” Hansen said. “If there are elements that need to be adjusted or changed, we’ll do everything we can to do that.”