October 25, 2020

Route 17 widening has profound effect

By Selina Foreman

Correspondent

A widening project on Route 17 seems to have alleviated traffic congestion, and more improvements along the roadway are in the works.

Dealing with traffic along George Washington Memorial Highway is especially problematic because it is the main road running through York County, connecting the area. Detours through neighborhoods are slow and circuitous, and residents were not thrilled to have their neighborhood peace disturbed by angry drivers trying to bypass traffic.

“People used to fly down Ella Taylor, trying to get around traffic,” said longtime resident Linda Gwaltney. “It was dangerous.”

Traffic congestion has a profound effect on cities, from increased air pollution and carbon dioxide levels to additional wear on vehicles and roads, according to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration. The agency reports social/psychological impacts as well such as increased anxiety, stress and road rage.

The $54 million widening project that was completed in December of 2016 has alleviated traffic to large extent. The project was funded mostly by state and federal resources, according to Tim Cross, deputy director of planning and development services.

“By all accounts and my own observations, the widening has definitely improved traffic flow on that segment of Route 17,” said Cross. “More important than anecdotal information is hard data.”

Both morning and afternoon peak-hour congestion shows that the area that was widened experiences low to moderate congestion, while traffic at either end of the widening shows moderate to severe congestion.

“Clearly the widening has made a difference,” Cross said.

Prior to actual construction, utilities along this corridor were buried underground, and the county contributed to the cost of this improvement, according to Cross. This portion of the project took 18 to 24 months to complete, but, in addition to more pleasant aesthetics, undergrounding utilities has a variety of benefits. It’s safer — no risk of downed power lines due to accidents — and reduces the risk of fire. It’s also more reliable for residents.

Looking toward the future, residents can expect more improvements for pedestrians to the Route 17 corridor near the Yorktown Library and from Queens Lake Middle School to Royal Grant Drive.

Every two years, Virginia cities and counties have an opportunity to apply for

federal transportation funds as part of the Transportation Alternatives Set‐Aside. Under this program, federal funds cover up to 80 percent of the project cost, and a minimum local match of 20 percent is required.

A team of York County staff members from the Department of Planning and Development Services and the Department of Public Works has worked over the past several months to study and evaluate the county’s sidewalk and bikeway needs. They identified these areas near the library and Queens Lake as being prime targets for expanded sidewalks and bike paths.

One project would construct a 5-foot-wide concrete sidewalk extending from the asphalt path along the east side of Route 17 near the Villas at Yorktown to the Yorktown Library, where it would connect with a new sidewalk to be constructed as part of the library expansion. The county is already building a sidewalk from the library to the existing sidewalk along Ft. Eustis Boulevard. The proposed project would result in a continuous 1.5‐mile walkway linking Nelson’s Grant, the Villas at Yorktown, Yorktown Crescent, York High School, the Yorktown Library, Patriots Square shopping center and Wendy’s.

The other project would construct a 5‐foot wide concrete sidewalk on the north side of West Queens Drive between Queens Lake Middle School and Royal Grant Drive. Tying into existing sidewalk facilities on the school property, which extend to Schooner Boulevard to the east, this project would provide safe pedestrian access between the 48‐home Royal Grant subdivision, Queens Lake Middle School and the 265‐home Creekside Landing subdivision located on the opposite side of the school.

If approved, funding will be available in October 2020.