CHARLES TOWN — Does the U.S. 340 traffic intersection with Augustine Avenue need a looping cloverleaf interchange to make the crossroads safe?
That’s a question two state lawmakers plan to ask West Virginia highway officials soon, according to Charles Town Councilmember Kevin Tester.
During a Charles Town City Council meeting on Monday, Tester said he talked with Delegate Wayne Clark, a Republican representing state District 65 where the intersection is located, about the idea of adding a cloverleaf at the U.S. 340 and Augusta Avenue crossroads. Clark and Delegate Paul Espinosa, a Republican representing House District 66, plan to talk to state highway officials on Friday about the possibility of building a cloverleaf interchange as a long-term safety solution for the intersection.
Clark and Espinosa confirmed the upcoming meeting.
Cloverleaf interchanges use looping ramp roads to allow traffic to navigate busy, higher-speed crossroads with minimal disruption of speed or movements from traffic lights. Left turns are eliminated at intersections controlled by the interchanges. Building them requires lots of money and extra land.
A resident of the Huntfield housing subdivision near the intersection, Tester has said nearby residents have suggested the cloverleaf solution. Concerns about the intersection’s safety has increased among the residents with plans to build an apartment complex and a Sheetz gas station and convenience store nearby, he said.
“Not saying we’ll get that [cloverleaf traffic design], only it’s good news that they’re trying to see what they can do for us on our intersection section problem here,” the councilman said.
After additional accidents occurred at U.S. 340 and Augustine Avenue along with more pressure from local officials to take more safety measures, state highway officials further adjusted the sequencing of turning signals at the intersection.
Mayor Bob Trainor said no “physical changes” to the intersection are planned. “But they are going to start tweaking the lights and that kind of stuff, and hopefully the idea obviously is to make that a safer intersection.”
In a March 15 letter to Trainor, West Virginia Transportation Deputy Secretary Jimmy Wriston wrote that the new “phased timing” of the intersection’s left-turn lane signals will be lengthened.
Under the signal adjustments, motorists using the left-turn lanes will likely react slower, at least initially, to the new traffic signal pattern, Wriston wrote. That adjustments, in turn, could lead to fewer cars making the turns during the green signal phases for those lanes onto and off of Augustine Avenue, he explained.
An “all red” signal sequencing may also be implemented at the intersection for cars stopped on U.S. 340 waiting for left-turning traffic from Augustine Avenue, he said.
Tester said stoplight sequencing changes have already been made in an effort to make the intersection safer. The left turn lanes directing traffic off U.S. 340 onto Augustine now occur only after all the highway traffic is fully stopped with a red stoplight, he said.
“Hopefully, that will allow for some improvement,” he added.
Wriston acknowledged plans for the Sheetz will draw motorists traveling the U.S. 340 corridor. State highway officials will conduct a traffic impact study to determine what extra safety patterns and features might be needed at or near the intersection due to the gas station’s construction.
For nearly two years, after a fatal accident occurred at the intersection, Charles Town council members have been continually urging state highway officials to make traffic safety improvements for the heavily traveled crossroads.
Since September 2019, 32 traffic accidents have occurred at the intersection, including three fatal ones, according to police.
In his letter last month, Wriston pointed out that highway officials have conducted several reviews and site visits at the intersection, including at least three evaluations of traffic signals. A study of traffic speeds was conducted there last fall, he added.
A year ago Wriston reported that the intersection had a “crash rate” of 0.75, the rate at which a crash has occurs every time a million vehicles pass through the multilane intersection. He said the crash rate was typical for such multilane intersections controlled by traffic signals on a high-speed roadway.
U.S. 340’s speed limit drops from 60 mph to 50 mph through the intersection.
After a fatal crash at the intersection involving a tractor-trailer in August 2019, city officials and police asked highway officials to conduct a comprehensive safety review. They urged highway engineers to consider adjusting the traffic signals and adding more warning signs and roadway markings. Flashing strobes or rumble strips to the four-lane highway were among the measures they suggested.
At the time, Wriston responded at the time that U.S. 340 already had warning measures for motorists approaching the intersection. To reduce confusion for U.S. 340 motorists approaching the stoplight at Augustine Avenue, however, state highway officials did adjust warning lights on a pole-mounted traffic signal for vehicles turning onto Augustine Avenue.
Wriston said highway officials would continue to monitor the U.S. 340 intersection for any benefits of adding more safety measures.
Then after another fatal accident occurred at the intersection last September, Charles Town officials asked highway officials once again to review whether additional safety measures should be taken. Local House of Delegate members Paul Espinosa and Wayne Clark also got involved in communicating concerns to highway officials.
City officials also provided updated traffic accident figures, information that highway officials said had raised the intersection’s crash rate enough to warrant another safety review.
The result was the latest notification from Wriston that the stoplight signals for the turning lanes would be adjusted.
Traffic signal changes at U.S. 340
Cindy Cramer, the traffic division director with the West Virginia Division of Highways, reports that a recent change signal sequencing at the U.S. 340 and Augustine Avenue ensures that mainline traffic on U.S. 340 is stopped when Augustine begins its green signal phase.
Should a vehicle run the red light under the new phasing it won’t conflict with the beginning of the Augustine green phase.
The new traffic signal cycle at the intersection:
• When mainline U.S. 340 has the green light, all other movements are stopped with a red signal. Right turns are not permitted from Augustine to U.S. 340.
• Left turns from U.S. 340 onto Augustine get the green arrow for a “protected” movement and through traffic on mainline U.S. 340 is stopped. Augustine is permitted to make right turns on the green arrow at this time.
• When Augustine has the green light, all other traffic movements are stopped with a red stoplight.