By MIKE WILLIAMS
The changing traffic patterns in Downtown Pulaski were once again a major topic of conversation during Tuesday’s meeting of Town Council.
“I would like to say I know it’s been a real burden to a lot of people. Change is hard,” said Councilman Greg East.
“I think Third Street has worked out really well – based on my observation and based on driving on it. I know Main Street is close behind it,” East said. “Still some work to do there, but certainly moving in the right direction. I think ultimately, when all of this is said and done, it’s gonna’ really work out in the best interest of the town … getting traffic to Main Street, which is one of the main goals of this – to get that traffic flow off Route 11 not directed to Third Street, but directed to Main Street.
“So overall, great job. I know there’s been a lot of in-coming with the changes, but I think we’re working through it and it’s ultimately going to work out to be a good thing for us,” East said, adding a “Thank you” to Town Manager Darlene Burcham “for taking the barbs.”
Councilman Jamie Radcliffe said he has become a convert on the traffic pattern changes.
“I’ve traveled those roads and I’ve actually got to where I like them. I wasn’t for it, but I think it’s going to be okay,” he said.
Another councilman, Michael Reis, said he now drives through downtown more often due to the changes.
“I used to avoid downtown and I drive through downtown multiple times a day. I used to drive around Washington and Jefferson because of the lights and now I make the choice to drive through downtown on my way to work and back every day, because it’s a more pleasant drive and it’s actually quicker. So that’s my personal opinion. It may not be shared by everybody,” he noted.
Mayor Shannon Collins expressed concern, however, over the main intersections in Downtown.
“I’ve received multiple citizen complaints about the red lights at Washington Avenue and Main Street and Washington and Third Street,” Collins said. “I hear them and understand their concerns. It worries me, as we’ve said before, if there’s a wreck on the interstate,” he said, noting he’s seen traffic backed up there before.
“It may still work fine, but have we studied that part,” he asked.
Burcham responded that town staff has kept the Virginia Department of Transportation aware of the town’s changes.
“I can tell you that we have kept VDOT informed of our plans as they are developing a plan themselves for how to re-route traffic in the event of a major accident and long delay on the interstate, and we’ve not had any pushback from them at this point,” she said.
“We know there are going to be accidents on I-81. That seems to happen every day, particularly going north. But given what has happened, what I call success, on Third Street, I think that traffic is actually moving faster. And I don’t know that you’re going to get that much additional travel through with a red light versus a stop sign because – in either case, you’re supposed to stop first. And unfortunately, what people don’t do anymore as they used to is they don’t stop at red lights. We’ve seen too many people that try to run a red light, even when you have a normal traffic signal that turns yellow and then turns red and people are still traveling.
“Our whole goal for the town, that council talked about quite a bit was to slow down traffic so that people could see us better. See what we had to offer, maybe become a part of that. I think that’s still going to happen on Third and Main as people see opportunities. But I would have to get back and talk to some of the staff to see if they really think there’d be a major issue [at the two intersections if traffic comes into town due to an accident on I-81.]
“Of course, if we had what I call an emergency situation, it might be that we can make some intermittent decisions,” Burcham said.
“Or maybe get police to direct traffic, the Mayor offered.
He noted that while some have warned of problems at those two key intersections, the same citizens say they like the change to four-way stops on Jefferson and Randolph Avenues.
“It works a lot better. We didn’t need those [traffic lights], that’s for sure,” he said.
East reminded council of some earlier conversations.
“I remember some years ago we had a conversation about our red lights being too long, and Bill Pedigo [former town engineer] explaining to us that many of those traffic lights were timed. So, whether there’s a car there or not, you stop and you sit through that timer. So, my experience downtown is it moves a lot faster,” East said.
Burcham told council the eastbound lane of Main Street had been opened just prior to the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting.
She said the next step on Main Street is to get the double yellow lines painted so two-way traffic can commence. Arrows will also be painted at the Main Street intersections to direct drivers. She said hopes are all that happens within a week or so.
“But people have to have time to get used to the new pattern, and it was for that reason that we activated the red light at the intersection of Washington and Main because – in spite of all of our signs it’s a four way stop – there were some people who were choosing to just avoid that in the direction heading up Washington because they knew there was no traffic coming from west Main,” Burcham said.
She explained again, there won’t be permanent paving on West Main until after the streetscape work is done to replace sidewalks and guttering downtown.