This letter is in opposition to the current pedestrian safety and infrastructure improvements in the village of Hillsboro on Route 9. Although there are wide unsubstantiated claims made to the contrary by the Town of Hillsboro and certain county supervisors who are up for re-election, this project is vehemently opposed by nearly all businesses located on Route 9. Of course we all support public works projects intended to improve pedestrian and vehicular safety, as well as those projects intended to upgrade and enhance these infrastructures.
However, the current plan was enacted without any communication, endorsement or involvement from the businesses that will be negatively impacted.
The small Town of Hillsboro, with fewer than 125 full-time residents and less than a handful of businesses, currently has no public water or sewer nor the funding and approval to implement the same. There are thousands of daily commuters that pass through the town, some of which surely exceed the posted speed limits creating a potential hazard for the local residents. However, what I suspect started as a legitimate project to slow down traffic has ballooned into a full-blown public works project complete with two roundabouts, sidewalks, crossways, lighting, parking, benches, speed humps and about 86 under-road public utility crossings. Let me reiterate: 86 under-ground crossings to direct water and sewer that currently doesn’t exist and that the town does not have funding to add. We all want pedestrian safety, but just like the nearby small town of Upperville off Route 50, simple speed humps and better signage across walkways would accomplish this “stated” goal for a much lower cost and with minimal impact to both residents and local businesses.
Apart from the thousands of commuters and adjacent towns that will be impacted with the current plan, the proposed MOT directs traffic through rural roads including Stoney Point and Woodgrove are a guaranteed recipe for disaster. These are very narrow small country roads with no line markers designed only for local use. There are numerous blind turns and single lane and wooden bridges that are hazardous for even those of us that drive these roads daily. Adding untold additional cars along with 53-foot tractor trailer trucks to these hilly roads, which are also shared with bicycles and pedestrians, will naturally result in more accidents and unbearable backups. Backups that are not only a nuisance but threaten quick access for first responders and added delays for school buses.
Furthermore, the use of dual roundabouts on either end of the town has not been properly vetted. Although highly effective in certain cases, these structures are designed for maximum traffic throughput. Anyone who lives west of the town of Hillsboro will confirm that attempting to merge onto Route 9 is currently met with an unrelenting stream of traffic during peak hours. In fact the only time to enter Route 9 is during the gap in cars that have been stopped at the current traffic light at Route 9 and Hillsboro Road. Once you replace this existing traffic light with a roundabout, you essentially remove the gap in traffic, creating a continuous flow of cars thereby making entry onto Route 9 even more frustrating, nearly impossible, and highly dangerous for all of our clientele and the residents of the very town these improvements are meant to help.
However, I am sure that all of these points were fully considered yet dismissed during the proper due diligence phase of such a large project. So, let me focus on one aspect that I am positive has been ignored: the impact to local businesses. Our business, Hillsborough Vineyards and Brewery, is located immediately west of the Town of Hillsboro, and 70% of our costumers originate from points east. Once Route 9 is under construction and with so many other wonderful alternatives in Loudoun County, many of our customers will opt for more easily accessible venues such as those on Route 50 or Route 15. Furthermore, our losses will not end with the completion of construction, but will persist for many years thereafter, as the public will be conditioned and adapt to avoid the Route 9 corridor in favor of these other businesses.
We estimate a conservative annual loss of 30%-40% to our business as a direct result of this proposed multi-year construction, current MOT, and the stated 60 days of total road shut downs. Naturally, we must downsize staff and would release at least 5-10 employees. We have also halted all future expansion investments.
So, not only will the county and commonwealth see losses in tax revenue, but will see a reduction in jobs and flush away untold dollars in future planned investments and improvements. I fully understand that the woes of a singular business may not seem very impactful, but consider that our projected losses could be multiplied by the 20-plus wineries, breweries, B&Bs and other farm businesses on the Route 9 corridor. The cumulative losses will be in the millions of dollars, hundreds of jobs, and multi-million dollars in lost investments.
So, I must ask, is the current Route 9 plan for the benefit of 100-plus residents of a small town worth the years of traffic headaches for the entire region, along with the untold amount of lost revenues, jobs and investments? Especially considering the glaring irony that… the Town of Hillsboro plans on using our county tax dollars to put our businesses in jeopardy?
We sincerely hope that project officials will immediately halt all further funding and construction plans for Route 9 and re-open this topic for further discussion and participation from all effected parties, including the newly formed Loudoun Heights Agritourism Council.
Tolga Baki is an owner and the head brewer of Hillsborough Winery and Brewery. He is a member of the Loudoun Heights Agritourism Council.