Extent and Impacts of the VA-DOT Exception Process for Access Management Design Standards

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Abstract:

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has released a report that addresses Virginia’s standards and exemption processes for commercial entrance spacing. This report also observes the extent to which commercial access exceptions are used in Virginia, and the impact on crashes at these sites. The previous VDOT Road Design Manual details requirements that new commercial entrances meet certain minimum spacing standards, though landowners may request exemptions. 
 

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Road Design Manual requires that new commercial entrances meet certain minimum spacing standards depending on a facility’s speed limit and functional classification. Landowners, however, may request an exception from these standards, leading to two questions relevant for Virginia’s access management program: how often are such requests occurring, and are such requests associated with an increase in crash risk? 

Based on data available for the period 2011-2016, such exception requests occurred for approximately 15% of all commercial entrances in Virginia, a lower figure than most, but not all, other states for which this information is available. Virginia’s exception requests are diverse, covering functional classes ranging from local roads to principal arterials and speed limits from 25 to 55 mph; examination of a smaller subset of these requests showed that about one fifth included a mitigation measure, such as entrance consolidation, designed to reduce crash risk. 

Examination of crash rates (e.g., crashes per year where only full years of data are used to minimize seasonal disparities) for 64 exception sites in four of the nine VDOT districts—Fredericksburg, Hampton Roads, Northern Virginia, and Staunton— showed no significant difference between the period before the entrance was constructed and the period after the entrance was constructed (p = 0.63). Using a subset of these exception sites—just 23 in the Northern Virginia District where a similar comparison site could be identified—a matched-pairs analysis was performed, in which one subtracts the change in crash rates at each exception site (from the before to the after period) from the corresponding change at each comparison site (for the same time interval). No significant difference in these changes was detected (p = 0.94). 

Although these data suggest that the exception program is not associated with an increase in crash risk, the study suggests that the exception requests continue to be monitored to ensure that exception rates remain stable. To make this monitoring feasible, the study recommends that VDOT use a customized module, recently developed by staff in VDOT’s Office of Land Use, which will facilitate the tracking of exception requests. 

Besides a discussion of the impacts of granting exceptions, this report provides data regarding the spacing standards of several states. 

The executive summary has conclusions on page viii.  (page 10 of the PDF).  And at pg 64 of the PDF.  

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fbroen's picture

Besides a discussion of the impacts of granting exceptions, this report provides data regarding the spacing standards of several states. 

The executive summary has conclusions on page viii.  (page 10 of the PDF).  And at pg 64 of the PDF.  

“the percentage of entrance permits requiring an exception ranges from less than 1% (California) to as high as 75% (Nebraska and Nevada).”

Given these percentage ranges and other discussion, it is difficult to ascertain the cause, at least in my opinion. Are Nevada’s rules too strict where any variance sends the question to an exception process?  Is Nevada tracking all decision closely and other states are not, but might have the same exception numbers if they were?  Does issuing exceptions put the state or the property owner at higher degree of liability? Is there a better way to write the rules to get the best design feasible without a high percentage of exceptions approved?  If an exception is granted for a private purpose that diminishes public safety does governmental immunity apply?