Two busy Clarke County roadways will soon become more congested, Clarke officials say, as traffic from western Loudoun County is diverted onto them during a road improvement project.
The project involves temporarily closing a stretch of Route 9 through the town of Hillsboro for at least a year, possibly as soon as February, though an exact start date hasn’t been determined. As a result, project engineers estimate that as many as 8,000 to 10,000 extra vehicles per day could be routed onto Route 7 (Harry Byrd Highway) and U.S. 340 (Lord Fairfax Highway) north of Berryville, according to Clarke County Administrator David Ash.
Route 7 and U.S. 340 are heavily traveled four-lane, divided highways.
Clarke officials said they were unaware of the project until they were contacted Aug. 27 about an Aug. 28 meeting in Hillsboro on the matter. Several Clarke officials attended the public meeting, but their concerns about added traffic on Clarke County roads were not addressed. “The mayor (of Hillsboro) told us the purpose of the meeting was not to answer our concerns,” Ash said, adding that Clarke officials “never really received a satisfactory explanation” on why localities being affected by Route 9’s temporary closure were not informed earlier.
The detoured traffic also may impact Shepherds Mill Road (Va. 612) in Clarke County, which is “going to make that road a lot more dangerous,” Clarke County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Travis Sumption said. Shepherds Mill Road is a narrow, two-lane road with a one-lane bridge that stretches from U.S. 340 at the West Virginia line south to Route 7, east of Berryville.
Hillsboro is a town of less than 200 people. According to Rethink9.com, a website created by the town, the project will involve closing part of Route 9 — also known as Charles Town Pike — from Stony Point Road to Mountain Road and through the town so two roundabouts and other traffic-calming measures as well as crosswalks, sidewalks and “multi-modal paths and trails” for pedestrians and bicyclists can be added. The construction project will detour commuters off Route 9 and onto U.S. 340 and Route 7 and secondary roads in Loudoun County.
Traffic studies show vehicles make an average of 17,000 daily trips through Hillsboro along Route 9. Of those trips, 16,000 originate in West Virginia and Maryland. A copy of last week’s presentation says U.S. 340 offers two “reliable routes” for these users to reach Route 7 during Route 9’s temporary closure.
“An effect of this detour” the presentation states, “will be a substantial reduction in the current bottleneck and queuing experienced at morning peak hours at the intersection of Rt. 9 and 7” in Loudoun.
Ash said the project’s engineers “had not made any effort to calculate” traffic counts on U.S. 340 and Route 7, but claimed during the meeting that “Route 7 is below capacity and free-flowing.” He said tell that to rush hour drivers in Clarke County waiting in long lines during red lights at intersections or suddenly encountering impatient, speeding drivers on their bumpers.
The Virginia Department of Transportation has not evaluated the additional vehicles per day that could be detoured into Clarke County as a result of the project, said Scott Alexander, assistant resident engineer at VDOT’s regional office in Edinburg.
Alexander said he didn’t know a lot about the project because Hillsboro is in another VDOT region. He acknowledged, however, there “potentially could be a significant impact on traffic” in Clarke as a result of the project.
Sumption said “common sense tells you” that more vehicles means a greater risk of accidents occurring. Route 7 is “already congested as it is,” he said. “Anytime you increase the traffic, it’s not going to be good.”
In an email on Friday, Clarke officials maintained that because of the additional vehicles, there will be more accidents, and costs for emergency services stemming from the traffic will be borne by the affected localities.
More accidents would mean more calls for assistance from Clarke’s volunteer fire and rescue companies, said county Emergency Services Director Brian Lichty. “It’s just going to place a higher burden on our system, and higher demands on our people.”
Route 9’s temporary closure is aimed at reducing the length and cost of the project, as well as improving safety and work quality, according to last week’s presentation.
Still, Clarke officials stated in their email, Hillsboro could keep Route 9 partially open by alternating lane closures, which would decrease the number of vehicles detoured onto other roads. The email added that “Hillsboro’s decision to entirely close Rt. 9 is driven by cost and convenience to the village.”
Documents show the project could take between 11 months and 36 months to complete, but a start date hasn’t been set. Hillsboro recently rejected construction bids that exceeded available funds. As a result, the project will have to be rebid.
Although Route 9 is a state highway, Hillsboro — not VDOT — is overseeing the project. VDOT is a partner in the project, along with Loudoun County and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, documents show.