New restrictions on left-hand turns at key entry points on Port Republic Road have recently been put in place at high-congestion times. These restrictions — determined by a 2018 traffic study commissioned by the city of Harrisonburg — are the first of many changes to Port Republic traffic patterns recommended to increase driver safety.
In October 2018, consultant Vanasse Hangen Brustlin began work on the study, which examined the traffic data beginning in January 2013. The data found that high levels of congestion on the corridor were largely due to a flawed left-turn system that contributed to a high rate of car accidents. Since January 2013, there have been 380 accidents at the key intersections, and the majority have been rear-ending accidents caused by left-hand lane congestion spilling into other lanes and oncoming traffic.
The recommendation for restricting left turns on Port Republic at heavily trafficked intersections along the corridor has been implemented, namely at Crawford Avenue, Hillcrest Drive and Hunters Road during the peak hours of 7-9 a.m. and 3-6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. These restrictions are the first of many recommendations the public works department plans on following from the study.
“Right now, our focus is on those left turns,” Michael Parks, director of communications for the city of Harrisonburg, said. “Are we reducing crashes, are we reducing congestion? Are people aware that this is happening?”
The city plans to move on to other recommended projects after it’s satisfied that the new left-turn restrictions have been implemented properly. It intends to install turning lanes where Forest Hill Road and Devon Lane intersect with Port Republic, to lengthen the eastbound left-turn lane at Bluestone Drive and to close the driveway of at least one gas station that exits to Port Republic. However, the start date of these projects depends on the completion of other changes on Port Republic, Parks said.
“We rely a lot on the community to be our eyes for some of this stuff because we aren’t constantly in this area like people who live there are,” Parks said. “If they see something, if they have some ideas, especially if they know something that could be a safety issue, letting us know that kind of stuff can be very helpful.”
Parks stressed that if residents want the best possible outcome, they should contact the city with their thoughts on traffic changes, as it needs the “feedback and real-world experience that only the drivers of Port Republic” are exposed to every day.
The study also highlighted the relationship JMU has with Port Republic, as much of the traffic is a result of the surge in population at the beginning of the school year. The residential areas that feed into Port Republic are largely student housing, and the city has to account for the congestion caused by JMU students.
Students are among the most heavily affected by the left turn restrictions, as the intersections are the exit and entry points to mostly student housing neighborhoods. The restricted intersection at Hunters Road is the entry point to the drive-thru of the Starbucks on Port Republic, which is frequented by students during now-restricted peak hours.
Olivia Lange, a junior art major, said students were surprised by the new restrictions at the beginning of the school year, but she said she believes they’re optimistic that Port Republic will become a safer road to drive on every day.
“I think it’s certainly a great start — it’s very dangerous to drive during rush hour around here,” Lange said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get to campus because there’s just so much backup, and the road can’t handle the congestion.”
Harrisonburg Public Works began working on the changes to Port Republic over the summer to prepare for the start of the new semester. Tom Hartman, director of public works, said the department prioritized resolving the safety, congestion, reliability and travel time issues highlighted in the study.
“We all know some of the challenges when we drive the corridor during the peak hours ... but we wanted to step back and take more of a holistic view and comprehensive review of the entire corridor,” Hartman said.
The department’s strategy included addressing the recommendations made by VHB and working with the Virginia Department of Transportation to complete the study’s short term goals, which include the left turn restrictions and an added second lane when turning on to South Main Street from Port Republic Road.
Hartman hopes to see an overall positive impact from improvements to Port Republic, as predicted by the traffic study — though he said he believes it’s too soon to tell if the changes have significantly affected the drivability of Port Republic.
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