At Tuesday night’s Pulaski Town Council meeting, council talked about the option of making traffic on Pulaski’s Main Street two-way, instead of the current one-way configuration.
According to information presented to council, a petition is circling to change the traffic pattern on Main Street from one-way to two-way, a topic that has been raised before, according to Mayor Jeff Worrell.
“It’s been a few years since council has looked at this, and it may be time to look at it again,” said Worrell. “Personally, I would be interested in doing a survey of the Main Street businesses and finding out what they think about it.”
Town Manager John Hawley informed council that the cost of changing a single traffic signal runs from $30,000 to $40,000, and that there would be a minimum of two signals per intersection that would need to be changed, resulting in around $60,000 to $70,000 for one block. He also said a 1988 engineering study had shown that changing traffic on Main Street to a two-way pattern would cause a loss of parking space.
“I’m not sure I understand two-way traffic, the costs versus what we’re going to gain right now,” said Councilman Jamie Radcliffe. “I’m definitely not against it, but I think the front-burner thing is Route 99. Once we get Route 99 done, it might be worth taking a look at then.”
“As far as VDOT money with the Route 99 improvements, if there were any remaining funding, could those funds be used for such a thing?” asked Councilman Greg East.
“The scope of the project right now utilized all the funds that were there for (Route) 99,” said Hawley. He went on to say, “We had some conversations with some of the VDOT staff after the meeting Friday. It’s a possibility. We have to see about the revised estimates for where we’re at on that.”
“I think the survey’s wasting our time. The petition’s a pretty good survey,” said Vice Mayor Joseph Goodman. “A lot of downtown businesses have already signed a survey. The last time we tried a survey we got mixed results. Realistically, we can’t afford to do it. The funds we have right now for transportation are reserved for the Route 99 project.” He advised instead to look at T21-style grants, which are reserved by VDOT for projects of this nature, to change the traffic lights.
“I’m with Mr. Radcliffe on this,” said East. “I think it becomes a more pressing issue once 99 improvements happen. Because that would effectively drive traffic right through the middle of downtown in Main Street. I think there’s something to be said for two-way traffic. It’s just a time issue.”
Goodman said he thought it was best to start the grant application process to change the traffic pattern now if it was to be done, since the process might be long and involved.
“Because you’re not just looking at ‘OK, can we turn the lights around?’” he said. “Is the EPA possibly going to come in and say, ‘Well, you have to do this study, you have to do that study before you can start construction?’” He advised that it might be possible to sync up the work on Route 99 and the downtown, “so as you drive traffic into downtown, downtown’s ready for that traffic.”
Returning to the topic of seeking out public opinion, Councilman Dave Clark said, “The problem is people who want to will fill out a survey, even if they have nothing to do with it.” He said plenty of people don’t want to change the traffic pattern downtown, but felt it was important to have downtown merchants’ input.
“Well, I think what we need to do is go see everyone,” said Worrell.
Goodman said he felt a survey would show true participation but that in doing so it was important to separate merchants from property owners.
Radcliffe asked John White, “As Economic Developer, do you get a lot of the vendors downtown saying, ‘We could do better if this was two-way’? What’s your opinion? What do you hear out of this? Or have you heard anything since 2010?”
White said he felt people who are advocates of two-way traffic are becoming more vocal, and a few more people might be interested in the idea than previously. He briefly noted that the one-way traffic pattern was developed during the Eisenhower years to evacuate town quickly, but now, two-way traffic would likely cause shoppers to linger downtown.
Hawley advised that grants might not cover the project, but said any decision to pull funds from Route 99 and put them into the downtown area would have to come from council. He advised pursuing another source of funds for creating two-way traffic downtown, including an urban funding project that would be available starting in 2017.
Councilman H.M. Kidd said of Route 99, “I wouldn’t want to pull any money out of that project. We finally appear to be moving forward with it.” He cited concern about where people would park upon reaching downtown if traffic becomes two-way.
Worrell asked if the council would like to run a survey and then, if there was interest for in changing Main Street to two-way traffic, apply for grants if they were needed and available.
“I know GPA has said in their meetings a couple of times that they’re kind of waiting on direction from council and council is waiting on requests from GPA, so this might be one of the first things that could be kind of a joint project between the GPA and the council,” said Hawley.
Town Attorney David Warburton pointed out, “The three largest traffic generators on the two one-way streets we have paralleling each other are owned by the county: the library, the courthouse, and the historic stone courthouse. And I get complaints all the time from judges and complaints from other town attorneys about the one-way traffic.” He continued, to laughter from the council, “Not that we want to make lawyers happy, but we do want to make judges happy. We might want to consider invoking some contact with the county since they own the three largest traffic generators downtown.”
Kidd expressed worry about creating bottlenecks that would make navigation difficult for emergency vehicles, although Goodman assured him that he believed drivers would be able to adapt to making room for them.
Radcliffe got the last word on the subject, saying to general merriment, “All I can tell you is, it’ll be a glorious day when we have a traffic problem on Main Street.”