Clarke County will probably have no choice but to grin and bear traffic congestion resulting from a highway reconstruction project in Loudoun County, state Del. Dave LaRock (R-33rd) said.
Construction could start as early as February, but it has not been decided whether the stretch of Route 9/Charles Town Pike in Hillsboro will close entirely during construction or if one lane will be kept open. Fully closing both lanes would result in construction taking about a year, while keeping a lane open would lengthen the project to about three years, officials have indicated.
The project involves installing two roundabouts and other traffic-calming measures on Route 9, plus crosswalks, sidewalks and pedestrian and bicycle lanes.
It’s like, “Do you want to get run over by a steamroller or a larger steamroller?” LaRock told the Clarke County Board of Supervisors on Monday. He said it’s logical to consider full closure because of the shorter construction time frame.
Although Hillsboro is spearheading the project, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) ultimately will decide which option is used, LaRock said.
VDOT’s commissioner has said the decision “will be based on data” indicating which option is best and “not emotion,” said Ed Carter, resident administrator at the department’s regional office in Edinburg.
Engineers estimate that if the Hillsboro portion of Route 9 is fully closed as many as 8,000 to 10,000 extra vehicles per day could start traveling Route 7/Harry Byrd Highway and U.S. 340/Lord Fairfax Highway north of Berryville. Those highways already are heavily traveled.
Based on his experiences with rerouted traffic, Carter said he thinks “not all [vehicles] will come in this direction [to Clarke County]. Some will use other routes,” such as through part of Maryland.
Controversy over the project erupted after Clarke officials said they didn’t know about it until the last week of August.
LaRock, who asked VDOT to review the project, attended the supervisors’ monthly work session on Monday to discuss with them the project’s anticipated effects on Clarke County. Others at the meeting included Del. Wendy Gooditis (D-10th), Carter and his assistant from VDOT’s Staunton District and two representatives from the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center, which is on the Clarke-Loudoun line and run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Because he represents both Clarke and Loudoun, LaRock said he will not take one locality’s side over the other’s. He said he wants to be the mediator.
There might not be anything to mediate, Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Bev McKay indicated.
“We’re not opposed to them doing this” project, said McKay, who represents the White Post District. Rather, officials are just concerned about effects it could have on the county and not knowing about it until recently.
Loudoun officials, including Hillsboro Mayor Roger Vance, maintain that neighboring localities were told when public hearings about the project were held in 2012.
Vance said the town is committed to completing the traffic calming initiative, and town officials would like to see it finished as soon as possible.
LaRock said he doesn’t think Hillsboro officials have been trying to “pull something over on somebody,” but maybe they could have communicated information about the project better.
“It’s an old town,” McKay said of Hillsboro, adding that “they need” the highway improvements.
Clarke County Sheriff Tony Roper said he and his deputies so far have made no plans to try and handle more traffic congestion because they have been uncertain exactly what to expect.
After the meeting, McKay said he is optimistic that appropriate solutions to handling heavier traffic can be determined now that the VDOT office serving Clarke County has gotten involved in the Hillsboro project.
“I wasn’t in the beginning,” he said.