The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will explore other alternatives to improve safety before taking a vote on whether to restrict truck through-traffic from a portion of Earlysville Road.
“I want to find a balance,” said Supervisor Brad Sheffield, who suggested other options, including lowered speed limits for trucks.
About 20 people spoke during a public hearing Wednesday, with the majority arguing against the ban on through trucks between Woodlands and Dickerson roads.
“The reality is that Route 743 is a major north-south artery built with state and federal dollars,” said Blair Williamson, owner of the S.L. Williamson asphalt paving company.
More than 120 people who live on the road had signed a petition asking the county to request permission from state officials to enact the ban.
The county’s transportation planner had recommended supervisors approve their request.
“The physical characteristics of Earlysville Road create an incompatible environment for truck traffic,” said Gerald Gatobu. “The road assessment shows there is a lack of shoulders and a history of run-off-the-road incidents.”
As part of the staff analysis, the firm EPR was paid $7,900 to conduct a study of the road last spring.
The review counted traffic and analyzed Virginia Department of Transportation crash data for a three-year period. The counts showed that vehicles with more than three axles ranged between 0.19 and 1.49 percent of daily traffic during the week and that trucks with two axles ranged between 12.72 percent and 16.81 percent.
There were 60 vehicular wrecks between 2012 and 2015 but only one of these involved a truck.
Shortly before the public hearing, Sheffield said this had been a big issue during his 2013 campaign for election.
“From the moment I started campaigning in that area the comments about the truck traffic from Rockydale Quarries were a major issue,” he said.
However, Sheffield said opposition from both the business community and residents of neighboring roads led him to want to explore alternatives. He suggested one option might be to lower the speed limit for trucks to 35 mph with a minimum fine of $200 for violations.
“We did have a brief conversation about lowering the truck speed limit,” said Joel DeNunzio, administrator of VDOT’s Charlottesville office. “I’m willing to move forward with that. It would include a safety study.”
Only a handful of people spoke in favor of the restrictions during the public hearing.
“I find that all the reason to restrict dump trucks and 18-wheelers are valid,” said William Tomlin. “Earlysville Road is not compatible for cut-through truck traffic.”
However, a resident of Reas Ford Road urged supervisors to reject the restrictions, arguing that trucks would just use that street.
“The proposal to restrict heavy truck traffic on Earlysville Road is so ill-conceived on so many levels,” said Richard Reese.
Rockydale Quarries employs 15 people in Albemarle at its facility on Rio Mills Road.
The president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce said restrictions would jeopardize those jobs.
“We welcomed Rockydale Quarries in 2010 but now we’re thinking about reversing that welcome,” said Timothy Hulbert. “The data from your study does not justify the proposed restriction.”
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said the proposed restrictions had nothing to do with Rockydale Quarries and that the work to enact the restrictions has been underway for more than 15 years.
“The fact that the neighbors have worked so hard to get these petitions shows that their misery has gotten worse,” she said.
Mallek said she did not want to take the restrictions fully off the table.
DeNunzio said he could conduct the study within two months. That would give county staff another month to analyze the report to make a recommendation on proceeding. Supervisors will revisit the issue in June.
“If we would be considering these other alternatives, I would hope we don’t abandon the process that we’ve been working through,” Mallek said.
Supervisors voted to defer a decision on the truck restrictions.
Supervisor Richard Randolph said any decision on Earlysville Road should be part of a larger discussion about rural road safety in the entire county.
“I don’t think the issues that are in this case study are restricted just to Earlysville Road,” Randolph said, adding he thought some rural roads might need to be widened.