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Henrico County awarded $320K to plan safer streets

A road with an unprotected bike lane. A cross walk can bee seen in the distance as can cars driving
Scott Elmquist
VPM News
Henrico County recently installed this bike lane and crosswalk on Church Road near Short Pump. The crosswalk sits in front of Gayton Elementary School.

Several other Virginia localities also received federal grant money from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Henrico County was one of several Central Virginia localities awarded federal money last week to help plan solutions for transportation safety issues.

The funds are part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed by Congress in 2021 — namely, the Safe Streets and Roads for All Action Grant Program. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, cities and counties nationwide were awarded $800 million in grants for 510 planning projects.

“We'll do what we can with the tools that we have federally,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in an interview with VPM News. “But a lot of this comes down to decisions around design, around signage, even around enforcement and sometimes culture, that are made by city and county leaders and at the state level. We’ll be pushing from our side. But people may have more influence than they realize with their own local leaders.”

Called “Action Grants,” this first round of funding, which localities had to apply for, will help localities create plans for improving road safety or build upon existing plans. Once Action Plans are completed, cities and counties must apply for a second-round “Implementation Grant” to help put those plans in place.

Henrico received $320,000 in funds from one of those grants.

“This is sort of our first step,” said Terrell Hughes, director of public works for Henrico. “We're going to take a deep dive, look at some of the safety challenges that are happening around Henrico County with respect to roadway and infrastructure.”

He said the county has years of data on what those safety challenges are, but fixing some of them will require partnerships.

“A lot of those require partnership with the state,” Hughes said. “We maintain a majority of our roads, [but] they tend to be secondary roads. The state maintains most of the primary.”

Hughes said his public works team and the county’s transportation department will also work with both the fire and police departments. He said his department regularly coordinates with fire and police, which provide feedback on how the streets can be safer.

He also said when it comes to fixing road safety issues, his department has traditionally focused on infrastructure.

“If you have pedestrian safety challenges, you put pedestrian signals in, or you light the intersections,” Hughes said. “But I think, hopefully, out of this action plan, we'll see some other things that get identified that traditionally may or may not necessarily fall under the infrastructure umbrella.

“For example, if there's some different things that we can do to help prevent the crashes — like changing driver behavior or promoting awareness — I think those are some of the things that we'd like to kind of see out of the action plan.”

People wearing reflective yellow vests install pylons at an intersection
Courtesy of Henrico County
Workers create a roundabout at the intersection of Oak Hill Lane and Doron Lane in eastern Henrico County using flexible pylons.

Hughes said besides the grant money the county will from the Safe Streets program, it has also identified other funding sources to fix transportation safety problems.

“We currently have funding through the Central Virginia Transportation Authority,” he said. “[And] we get a new additional sales tax and additional tax on gas.”

Because of that extra funding, Hughes said the county can quickly tackle some road safety projects, and he said it’s already started addressing issues.

“The big new thing is our draft bike plan,” Hughes said. “What we're looking at is identifying strategic locations where we can implement some low-cost bike infrastructure improvements.”

Hughes said they’re looking at narrowing a number of roadways, sometimes called a “road diet,” by taking some of the extra pavement to provide new bike lanes and potentially pedestrian improvements.

“That's something that we've already been implementing,” he said. “We revised our traffic-calming program. We've got a number of roads where we don't have sidewalks, for example, [and] we're looking at ways to slow traffic down. We had a pilot traffic-calming effort, where we're looking at neighborhood roundabouts. We actually just built our first one this fall, [and we’ve] got a couple more coming.”

Other areas in the commonwealth that received grant money this round include Chesterfield County ($280,000) and the cities of Hopewell ($196.800), Newport News ($200,000), Norfolk ($240,000) and Richmond ($762,414.07).

Ian M. Stewart is the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.