NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — According to records from the Virginia Department of Transportation, exit 13B for I-264 East in Norfolk is one of the most dangerous ramps in Hampton Roads.
10 On Your Side is taking a critical look at exit 13B, which some say is an accident waiting to happen.
If you frequent the Military Circle Mall area, you don’t have to be an expert to know 13B should be approached with caution. Car parts, tire tracks, and a plowed-down safety sign tell the story of one dangerous curve.
Whether you are headed east to the beach, west to Chesapeake, or to North Military Highway, exit 13B can put your trip in peril.
This ramp, with a maximum safe speed of 20 mph, is supposed to take you from I-264 around a tight curve and onto Military Highway northbound. But here’s the problem: often to reach the ramp, you may have to make a quick lane change that puts you up against eastbound drivers.
“I notice it’s really hard. Sometimes for you to catch that exit people be hitting because the traffic comes around from the other one they don’t want to give nobody a break,” said motorist Greg Rogers from the pumps of a nearby gas station.
Norfolk’s City Manager Dr. Chip Filer is also familiar with the challenges posed by exit 13B.
“That turn kind of creeps up on you. We are aware that there are a lot of cars that typically don’t make that turn and end up in the ditch,” said Filer.
A birdseye view of the 13B ditch from Chopper 10 reveals a culvert that makes for a muddy end for drivers who miss the ramp and crash. With a state trooper positioned for safety, 10 On Your Side got an up-close look at the pit and its collection of car parts from accidents past.
The VDOT engineer in charge said the ramp is even more dangerous when wet. Soon to come: slippery when wet signs.
“We want to put them up and tell motorists ‘Hey when it’s wet out here, use extra caution. You can use the normal speeds, slow down even more, and make it up the ramp safely,'” said District Traffic Engineer Mike Corwin.
So much for safety signs. One has already been plowed down by a vehicle out of control.
Since 10 On Your Side took images of the damage on June 7, a portion of the nearby guardrail has been crunched in a collision. State officials said, typically, driver’s accident insurance covers the cost of repairs to the ramp.
10 On Your Side reviewed VDOT records from 2018 through April of this year. There were 30 crashes at 13B, including three days in which there were two crashes on this one troubled ramp.
Because of the crash history, VDOT is also considering the creation of a so-called “clear zone.” Engineers say clear zones offer a safer way to veer off the road. Such zones are commonly found in mountainous areas of the state.
“If you do not make the off-ramp and you go straight at the bottom it, as you go down the slope, there’s a culvert. What we’d like to do is modify the culvert which would allow us to fill in the slope. We are looking to create a clear zone for motorists so instead of going through the guardrail and going down the slope and possibly overturning, we want them to have an area where they would continue to go straight and come to a controlled stop,” said Corwin.
Engineering aside, motorist John Kerrigan said the solution is simple.
“It is a hairy little turn, but most of the exits of the interstate are. If you are going too fast, you’ll go off the edge. I just think people need to be careful,” said Kerrigan.
10 On Your Side identified one accident case from 2019 where a 21-year-old who had been drinking crashed into the pit at 70 mph. Fortunately, no one was injured.
Because of the history at 13B, the City of Norfolk is proceeding with caution as Military Circle Mall is slated for a multi-million dollar redevelopment. Several pitches have been made that include the development of a live entertainment venue.
The ramp and surrounding arteries are on the city manager’s radar.
“This will be absolutely on the table and it’s transportation holistically,” said Filer.
Meanwhile, commuters believe 13B needs a makeover before the mall gets a makeover.
“Get that problem taken care of first, or it’s going to be a lot of bad accidents up there. That’s the only thing I can say,” said Rogers, the motorist who spoke to 10 On Your Side at a gas station.
Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Alexander said he will announce next month which group of investors has secured the winning bid to redevelop the mall.
Alexander said local, state, and federal funding may be needed to improve the ramp and other arteries around the mall property.