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Proposed Nansemond Parkway roadwork gets revision

A change in design will still lead to needed road improvements along Nansemond Parkway, but it is also expected to benefit Nansemond River High School and lower impacts to neighboring properties.

Though few have disagreed about the need for safety and traffic flow improvements on Nansemond Parkway in the area around Nansemond River High School, especially as the volume of vehicles and accidents have increased over the past several years, there hasn’t been agreement on how to do it.

A previous proposal, since shelved, would have had two or three traffic signals and also would have split the property of two churches to reroute Bennetts Pasture Road to realign with Sportsman Boulevard.

“We’re looking, certainly, to increase the safety, especially at Sleepy Hole Road and Nansemond Parkway, and at Bennetts Pasture (Road) and Nansemond Parkway,” said Interim Public Works Director Robert Lewis at a Sept. 1 City Council work session. “We’re going to improve the access to the school.”

Between 2015 and 2019, 73 accidents have been reported on the stretch of road between the high school and about 900 feet east of the intersection between Nansemond Parkway and Sportsman Boulevard.

Forty-seven of those accidents were rear-end collisions, 11 others involved a vehicle leaving the road and 15 were categorized as “other.”

Lewis said the new plans for Nansemond Parkway will reduce land and environmental impacts, and will cut the cost of the project, now pegged at about $11 million, with half to be paid for with money from the Virginia Department of Transportation’s revenue sharing program, and the other half coming from city money.

He said the signal in front of the high school came about in the wake of an accident involving a student, and was meant to be temporary. He also said there have been plans for a traffic signal at Sleepy Hole Road, but that intersection is still controlled with a stop sign.

He said the biggest change in the proposal is the addition of a stormwater retention pond on the property of Nansemond River High School adjacent to the stadium.

Access to the school will also change.

The traffic signal currently in front of the school will be removed, and the entrance at the front of the school will be closed off, with a new entrance to the school to be put in off of Sleepy Hole Road.

With the school near the southern end of its attendance zone, most students come from north of the school.

“What we have found over the years … is just looking at the impacts of traffic,” Lewis said, “one of the issues is the entrance coming off the school as it exists today is very quickly impacted by driveways and parking and just people, traffic coming every which way as school lets in and (lets) out, which greatly impacts the ability to move traffic through that intersection.”

The other benefit to that change, Lewis said, is it allows Public Works to work with the school division to add about 90 parking spaces and change its circulation in and out of the parking lot.

Lewis said those things have been vetted with Suffolk Public Schools and the School Board, and they are “very supportive of this.”

There will still be a traffic signal from Sleepy Hole Road to get onto Nansemond Parkway, but those coming out of the school will have more room to queue.

Currently, about four vehicles can queue at the traffic signal to leave the school. The new configuration from the traffic signal at Sleepy Hole Road to Nansemond Parkway will allow for 20 to 30 vehicles. When the light turns green, “we can flush out a lot more traffic in a short order,” Lewis said.

Most students, he noted, turn left out of the school to leave.

“We think this actually makes a better flow of traffic,” Lewis said.

Lewis said turn lanes would be added “to make this a modern intersection that can safely handle traffic.”

He said Public Works also took another look at how traffic moves at the intersection of Nansemond Parkway and Bennetts Pasture Road and found much traffic coming from the south making a left onto Bennetts Pasture Road. The project will provide an adequately sized turn lane. Those coming from the Driver area will have a right turn lane to turn onto Bennetts Pasture Road.

Lewis said the biggest change for those coming off of Bennetts Pasture Road onto Nansemond Parkway will be that they are only able to turn right and go south.

“We anticipate that we might get a little bit of complaining on that early on, but people will quickly realize there are other alternative routes,” Lewis said, “and the volume of traffic, too, making that movement, is significantly small enough (that) we think this is a good compromise in order to make this work.”

The project is nearing the end of the preliminary engineering phase and close to being ready to acquire right of way. The next steps for the project include a community outreach meeting, tentatively to be held at the high school Oct. 7, pending approval from Suffolk Public Schools.

Following that meeting, and making any tweaks to the project’s design, City Council would hold a public hearing in November. If approved, it would begin right-of-way acquisition late this year, and then put the project out to bid. Construction, pending approval, would begin by next summer and be completed six to eight months later.

Council members were generally supportive of the new project design. Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett called it “a win compared to what was going on before out there between the churches,” while Roger Fawcett said “we’ll catch some devil” with people who will still want to make a left-hand turn from Bennetts Pasture Road onto Nansemond Parkway, having to line up at Sleepy Hole Road to make that left or accessing it at a different location.

“It is a much better project, a far better project than we were discussing a few months ago with the churches,” Fawcett said.

Mayor Mike Duman said this is a great and viable alternative, spending less money and time but making the road safer through more palatable improvements.

“This project has got a long history,” Lewis said, “and VDOT is starting to press us about the time limits on spending these funds, so we are trying to move forward with this project.”