Members of VDOT met with Northampton County residents at Kiptopeke Elementary School on Thursday to discuss the traffic design for the new Royal Farms location near the entrance of Kiptopeke State Park. A fatal traffic accident on December 19th between mile post 74 and 75 near the Cape Center brings traffic related deaths on U.S. 13 between Mile Post 74 and 75 to 6 within as many weeks. The accident, which occurred about 10:30 P.M. claimed two lives of a local family. Reports indicate that the vehicle they were driving struck a turning tractor trailer, highlights concerns many have for the entrance and turning lane designs of the new Royal Farms facility.
The current design allows southbound traffic to enter and exit from the same side, however northbound traffic, after entering, will have to exit and make a U-turn at Cedar Road in order to continue moving north on Route 13. Citizens voiced concerns that traffic barreling off the CBBT, sometimes reaching speeds near 70 mph could come in conflict with tractor trailers, RVs and boat trailers attempting to make U-turns into northbound motorists. Several citizens voiced concerns that by approving Royal Farms at this location, while not fully taking into account the real traffic situation, the unintended consequence is that the County has created deathtrap scenario at this location.
Several citizens asked whether speed reduction measures, such as a traffic light, might be helpful. VDOT representatives agreed that while traffic lights are helpful in some cases, there was not enough crossing traffic to justify implementation.
The traffic safety concerns around the new Royal Farms also highlight long-term issues that will be facing Northampton County. Governor McAuliffe’s statewide initiatives promoting commercial development, such as Go Virginia, VTRANS and the new work and promotion of Norfolk International Terminal is on track to dramatically increase container traffic coming in and out of Hampton Roads. For moving product by truck, many believe Route 13, which is generally shorter and less stressful than I-64/I-95, will be the route of choice for drivers. Increased tractor trailer traffic will add stress to a roadway design that dates back to the 1950s.
On the Shore, the increased production predicted for the poultry industry will also put more pressure on 13. With more pressure to meet the demands of Chinese and European markets for chicken, expansion of processing centers and plants will be producing more products that will need to be moved over Route 13.
As we continue to attract and promote more tourist related activities, this too will add to an increasingly stressed traffic situation. Traffic counts at the CBBT already indicate weekend traffic at 25,000 cars and trucks per day.
While increased economic development on the shore and in the state is generally welcome, the need to be prepared to deal with the effects of that increase should become a priority for county planning. An emphasis on Access Management and Traffic Safety by VDOT is needed now, however alternatives to the current scenario also need to be discussed.
If increased accidents on 13 are in our future, the involvement of our EMS teams will also go up. EMS costs are already at $2 million, which equates to almost 10% of the county budget. This cost will necessarily go up as EMS teams respond to an increased number of incidents. Across the bay, the Dominion Boulevard Elizabeth River toll system is poised to take advantage of the millions of cars heading south to the Outer Banks. Could a toll in Northampton defer some of the costs associated with more EMS involvement?
While the Eastern Shore has been somewhat secluded and protected for some time, those days are over. As the region pushes for more tourism related growth, along with increased poultry production, and a substantial increase in container shipping out of the Port of Norfolk, the landscape of the Eastern Shore will be changing. Eminent traffic safety issues being created by the economic development efforts have already put Route 13 safety on the front burner.