In a split decision vote Tuesday, the Pulaski Town Council vote to use its urban transportation funds to improve Route 99 rather than Exit 94.
Mayor Jeff Worrell cast the deciding vote Tuesday in the 3-3 split between enhancing Route 99 and reconstructing Exit 94. Supporting use of funds for the Exit 94 improvements were Councilmen Joel Burchett Jr., Robert Bopp and Joseph Goodman. Morgan Welker made the motion to proceed with Route 99. Vice Mayor David Clark provided the second and H.M. Kidd also supported the motion.
Worrell said earlier this month he doesn’t think the best use of $400,000 in urban transportation money would be to pay for a project that is not the town’s responsibility. He acknowledged there are safety issues with the existing exit, but said he doesn’t think it’s the town’s duty to repair them.
Welker agreed, saying localities would all go broke if they start fixing all of the “obsolete exits” on the federal government’s interstate highway system.
The town has about $4 million in urban funding that was set aside to widen Route 99. However, over the past few years, the Virginia General Assembly has gradually reduced its annual contributions to urban funding and recently stopped funding the program altogether.
Town officials started looking at alternatives to widening Route 99 when Virginia Department of Transportation officials informed the town that the cost of widening the road is growing faster than the urban funds were accumulating.
The idea of using some of the money to redo Exit 94 arose in June when Burchett asked town staff to find out if some of the funds could be used for that purpose. VDOT officials said they could and put the estimate for reconfiguring the exit at around $426,000 or about a tenth of the total urban funds available.
Some of the options for the Route 99 improvements approved Tuesday include widening the bridge over the railroad tracks to accommodate bicycle lanes and sidewalks; widening Route 99 with paved shoulders from the bridge to Xaloy Way; installing street lighting from Route 611 to the interstate; landscaping and entrance signing on Route 99; and guardrail replacement.
Town Manager John Hawley said VDOT is ready to move forward with the Route 99 improvement plan, so council members needed to quickly take action to halt those improvements if they wanted to use the funds for Exit 94.
Burchett said he would rather see money used for the exit than guardrail replacement. Hawley said the guardrail on Route 99 now doesn’t meet new state standards.
He noted that the state would probably require replacement of the guardrail once improvements are made to Route 99.
“I hate to sit here and do nothing (about Exit 94 safety issues),” Burchett said. “Is it going to take somebody getting killed (to get the exit changed)?”
He said he and his mother almost got hit by trucks there about 30 years ago. Since then, they have been using other exits to get off the interstate.
Burchett agreed with some other council members that the northbound entrance ramp could be made safer if trees were cleared in order to improve the sight distance. Councilman Joseph Goodman supported using the money for exit improvements. He pointed out 94 is the main exit for the Town of Pulaski and the town is studying the possibility of extending the corporate limits along Route 99.
Welker contends doing away with the cloverleaf ramp in exchange for a left turn crossover from Route 99 onto the entrance ramp from westbound Route 99 would be “trading one problem with another one.”
Councilman H. M. Kidd said anything the town can do to make Route 99 entrance into town look better would be a plus and would help draw people into town.
Bopp pointed out that if people are going to use Route 99, they’re going to have to use Exit 94.
Clark pointed out that both exits from I-81 into town involve cloverleafs. “If we fix this one, we’re only going to be fixing one problem and then it will probably be another 20 years before VDOT will fix the whole (Exit 94). There are problems both ways on it.”