Primary thoroughfares such as Wythe Creek enable us to easily reach workplaces, conduct business, and enjoy social activities such as shopping and dining. As a key corridor to NASA’s Langley Research campus and retail destinations, Wythe Creek Road (Route 172) has experienced severe traffic capacity deficiencies with many commuters traveling between the City of Poquoson and the City of Hampton. Classified as an urban minor arterial, the potential widening of Wythe Creek presented a series of significant challenges: as a 1.5 mile long way stretch with a 1,500 foot long causeway in a coastal area, it is highly environmentally sensitive; with a 110 foot long bridge, costs for replacement and widening are steep; and with the current roadway undivided, set up as two 11-foot lanes with no bicycle or pedestrian facilities, there was little existing infrastructure to widen into without purchasing properties to attain Right-of-Way.
To meet projected traffic increases of nearly 65 percent by 2026, our transportation team was commissioned by VDOT to evaluate four lane widening alternatives that support the long term vitality of Hampton and Poquoson businesses and residents. Through due diligence and analysis, our traffic engineers determined the existing soil conditions of the causeway were so poor that the proposed earthen embankment to widen the section to four lanes would not provide adequate support, but instead would require a new bridge for the entire length of the causeway. This hurdle had the potential to prove insurmountable. Adding $10 million to the project cost, it seriously jeopardized the likelihood of the project moving forward.
Through value engineering efforts, our designers offered an innovative and uncommon solution to VDOT: the implementation of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), which could significantly reduce project costs and greatly improve capacity, meeting current and future demands. This technology, which involves a reversible middle lane, aligned as an ideal solution to traffic patterns that demonstrated heavy use to the south in the morning and equally heavy use to the north in the evening. Our recommendation of a three-lane, undivided section with a reversible center lane to accommodate peak conditions reduced the project cost back to the projected budget of $50 million, effectively saving the project. Met with enthusiasm and approval by VDOT and the Cities of Hampton and Poquoson, the Wythe Creek Road project is now entering the Right-of-Way and final design stages.
This solution is representative of the changing methods transportation engineers must use to address client challenges. With limited budgets and significant infrastructure improvement needs, municipal, state, and federal transportation clients are looking increasingly to design partners to innovate and leverage new technology. In this case, implementing ITS reduced the number of private properties VDOT needed to purchase for Right-of-Way from four to zero, benefiting not only project cost but also community relations. The Wythe Creek Road project has and will continue to involve a high degree of community outreach and education as residents must be prepared to safely follow the guidance of this new signal technology for a better commute experience for all.