Commuters using Orange Avenue/U.S. 460 east of downtown Roanoke will travel in heavy, slow-moving traffic for at least another year or more because new lanes are cost-prohibitive. But highway engineers still hope to prevent gridlock through lower-cost alternatives to widening.

The problem area falls between Williamson Road and U.S. 220 Alternate, also known as Cloverdale Road. Morning commuters heading into downtown typically need 20 minutes to cover the 4.8-mile segment, while outbound evening commuters take 17 minutes. By comparison, the same trip — inbound or outbound — would take seven and a half minutes if motorists could go the speed limit, now set at 35 mph to 45 mph.

Local officials have set aside a widening proposal because of its $77 million price tag. Instead, the Virginia Department of Transportation has assigned engineers and planners to take about seven months to find cheaper alternatives to improve the highway segment, which saw 865 crashes from 2014 through 2018. VDOT urged residents familiar with the road to complete an online survey before Sunday.

Officials expect to know which steps could improve flow and safety by May.

VDOT has faced similar situations before and given motorists relief through such moves as improving the timing of signals and reworking intersections, the agency said. The spacing of intersections, median openings and driveways will also get a look in the upcoming study, as will ways to improve pedestrian, bicycle and bus travel so fewer people rely on driving.

The Williamson-Cloverdale segment has 28 intersections, about half with signals. Of the crashes, 238 involved injuries, while six involved deaths. The initial report launching the study doesn’t say how many people died.

Commuter-fueled traffic peaks shortly after 7 a.m. and shortly after 5 p.m. during the week. During those times, Orange Avenue carries about 1,800 vehicles an hour in the congested stretches. If nothing is done, gridlock is a strong possibility by 2038, a 2009 traffic study found.

Widening funding, which the city first sought in 2016, would have added a lane in each direction along one portion of the congested area of Orange Avenue: 11th Street Northeast to Gus Nicks Boulevard. When funding requests were turned down, VDOT activated its study initiative, called Strategically Targeted Affordable Roadway Solutions. The idea behind STARS is to “develop solutions that can be funded and implemented,” VDOT said.

In the meantime, VDOT already has earmarked $7 million for improvements on Orange Avenue at Hollins Road and near Blue Hills Drive.

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Jeff Sturgeon covers business, banking, transportation and federal court. Phone: (540) 981-3251. Email: jeff.sturgeon@roanoke.com. Mail: 201 W. Campbell Ave., Roanoke, VA 24011.

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