Virginia map showing the location of the first stoplight in Chesterfield County along U.S. Route 360

A New “First Stoplight” in Chesterfield

My car rounded the bend, and suddenly I felt a tick of annoyance at what I saw.

Great. A new stoplight.

A Moving Target

Many of us who live in Southside Virginia drive along U.S. Route 360 through Chesterfield County to get to Richmond, and those of us who travel that route with any regularity at all usually have a pretty good memory of where the “first stoplight” is. The “first stoplight” is the stoplight more or less marking the western edge of the high-density urban sprawl around Richmond. It’s the point at which open highway through endless forests and fields (punctuated by the occasional gas station) gives way to crowded suburbia.

Much of the urban sprawl around Richmond has focused on the 360 corridor through Chesterfield County for the past few decades, and so the “first stoplight” is a bit of a moving target. When I first started driving—here I date myself—the “first stoplight” was the stoplight at the Woodlake subdivision. That was a particularly impressive “first stoplight”: Imagine driving through miles of open highway, rounding a bend at the crest of a hill, and suddenly being confronted with a 1.5-mile view across a valley filled with suburban development, beginning with the Woodlake light. The sudden sharp contrast between the endless rural landscape and a valley teeming with suburban life was breathtaking in its own way. However, the Woodlake light is now at least the fourth stoplight, and so the effect is not as strong as it once was.

One of my law partners tells me of a time, only two or three decades ago, when the “first stoplight” was at Brandermill. The entrance to Brandermill is about 2.9 miles past the entrance to Woodlake. (All distances listed in this post are driving distances along U.S. 360, as measured using Google Maps.)

And, at some point in the past month or two, yet another stoplight was installed on U.S. 360. It’s at the intersection with Magnolia Green Parkway / Baldwin Creek Road. For those of you who are keeping track, that intersection is just over 2.7 miles away from the Woodlake light, or 5.6 miles away from Brandermill.

What Does the Future Hold?

The urban sprawl around Richmond continues expanding through Chesterfield, and many of us wonder how long it will be before Richmond begins engulfing Southside Virginia. We’re probably safe for the next couple of decades. This new “first stoplight” is still about eight miles away from the Amelia County line, and it remains to be seen just how desirable newer subdivisions will be as they are built further and further away from Richmond proper. But certainly the concern is warranted.

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Derrick P. Fellows

Derrick P. Fellows is an attorney with Hawthorne & Hawthorne, P.C. in Victoria, Virginia. Follow him on Twitter at @dpfellows.