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VDOT sets stepped-up effort for road safety improvements

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RICHMOND — With deaths and serious injuries from traffic accidents on the rise, the Virginia Department of Transportation wants to step up the pace on safety improvements to Virginia’s roads.

“The trends are trending in the wrong rate,” Stephen Brich, commissioner of VDOT, told the Commonwealth Transportation Board on Tuesday.

“Now is the time to act,” he told the board, which oversees transportation projects and initiatives in the state.

Generally, VDOT and the Department of Motor Vehicles want to focus attention on some of the biggest sources of accidents resulting in death or serious injury.

Those are impaired driving, involved in 14,585 such accidents from 2017 to 2021, speeding, with 13,431 accidents, and seat belt use, an issue in 8,192 accidents.

Fatal I-95 crash

In this May 2021 crash, a 2020 Tesla struck a highway work van after being hit by a sedan. The fatal accident closed down Interstate 95 at the Route 301 overpass.

One push would be to open access this year to the state’s infrastructure investment plan to local governments’ projects for roads they maintain, he said.

That would free up $110 million over the next six years.

He said the department also wants to add funding for up to 1,000 miles of safety improvements to two-lane rural roads, on top of the 2,000 miles already funded through 2028. That will boost the pool of funds for this effort to $150 million.

Brich said he felt work on systemic issues on state highways is far enough along to allow a return to a focus on spot problems, with funding for this effort amounting to $124 million through fiscal year 2028.

But he also wants to boost efforts in one area of systemic challenges, improving pedestrian crossings where VDOT is on track to completed $34 million of work by 2025.

Brich is proposing a second phase to work on up to 200 locations, at a cost of an additional $20 million.

System improvements already made or on track to finish by 2024 include marking curves and improvements at intersections that lack traffic signals.

VDOT has also accelerated work on rumble strips by five years, with work statewide to be completed by 2030.

With education efforts focused on impaired driving, speeding and seat belt use, DMV also wants to focus more on accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists, with 2,689 accidents, David Mitchell, DMV deputy commissioner, told the board.

Intersection accidents, at 14,141 accidents, are prompting VDOT’s interest in a second phase of improvements there.

And while injuries and deaths from vehicles leaving roadways occurred in 16,488 accidents, impaired driving, speeding, and not using seat belts – often in combination – account for most of these, DMV data show.

Accidents resulting in serious injuries rose through 2020 and 2021, reaching 7,397 last year. Fatalities jumped from 847 to 968, not too far below the high of more than 1,000 reached in 2007.

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