By Ellen Kanzinger
Drivers trying to turn left into Central Elementary School on a school morning often find themselves waiting to cross one of the busiest intersections in Lexington.
But they will have to wait a little longer for a solution.
The Virginia Department of Transportation, Rockbridge County and the City of Lexington began reviewing the design of East Nelson Street and the Route 60 corridor in March 2012.
The study focuses on the .66 miles between Spotswood Drive and Quarry Lane, encompassing both city and county roads.
In addition to Central Elementary, a number of businesses are clustered in this area, including three shopping centers and Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital. There are 10 intersections within that stretch of road, including two exit ramps at the Route 11 bypass.
Gennaro Guardascione, one of the co-owners of Frank’s Pizza on Nelson Street, expressed concern over the traffic situation coming off of the bypass.
“We have big issues at lunchtime and dinnertime,” he said. “People have a hard time coming out, coming in.”
The final study proposes adding two traffic lights at the off ramps as well as improving sidewalks for pedestrian traffic. Other solutions include adding backroads off of Nelson Street to reduce traffic on the main road.
In the meantime, the county employs a deputy sheriff to help direct traffic in the morning because there is no light for drivers trying to turn left onto New Market Place. While this addition lessens some of the backup at drop-off, the county is looking for a more permanent solution.
Chris Slaydon, the county assistant director of community planning, has been working with VDOT and local officials to figure out the most viable and cost-effective solution to the current traffic problems.
“If they were designing the city of Lexington for 2016, it would look a whole lot different than the way it was historically developed,” he said. “That’s part of the process here, trying to figure out how to make this old grid system work with the traffic concerns we have today.”
“It’s obvious that there is a terrible bottleneck,” he said. “Something needs to be done. When it will happen, I’m not sure.”
Since the area in question lies within both the county and the city, the two local governments will need to work together on improvements. The Lexington City Council has yet to respond to the study, although City Manager Noah Simon hopes to bring the proposal to a vote Oct. 6.
Unlike the city, which owns and maintains all of its roads, the county relies on VDOT funding for upkeep and maintenance. Slaydon said the county will start applying for those funds once the board approves a plan.
“Accepting it, I think just sort of puts it back on the shelf,” he said. “In reality, not much is going to happen with it.”