We, members of the Loudoun Heights Agro-Tourism Council, believe the current Route 9 project traffic plan that the Town of Hillsboro and Virginia Department of Transportation have approved, with involvement from the Loudoun Board of Supervisors, is fundamentally flawed for one major and important reason: The plan was developed without the participation of, or any substantive consultations with, the vineyard community.
The needs of our respective businesses, and the means to best mitigate both short-term and long-term damage to those businesses and the regional economy, have not been taken into consideration. This is primarily because the vineyard community has been not been included nor consulted in the planning and decision-making process.
In short, while I believe the the town has been operating in good faith, they are also operating without any input and making assumptions about what may or may not work for the vineyard community. Many of those assumptions are, in the end, simply incorrect.
In terms of the plan itself, the detour routes have not been adequately considered. They are proposing routing traffic up to Route 340 and around via Maryland. The delay caused by that route will likely mean a significant drop-off in business for the vineyards west of Hillsboro, as well as for those to the east that have visitors from West Virginia and Maryland. The “local” detour routes are not being adequately prepared in advance of the construction project, and they have not selected adequate detours even in those cases. They are talking about extended road closures, at times taking up to three weeks, which will literally shut down traffic to the business community.
On the weekends when there is not a total road closure, they are keeping the one lane open and only in one direction – westbound – but leaving no path for visitors to return home. The hours they are talking about fail to account for the level of business that occurs both on the weekends and during the week, since they have simply assumed the vineyard community only needs the weekends without actually understanding the nature of how our respective businesses operate.
There is considerable concern that, with the traffic plan now having been “agreed” between the town and VDOT, they are too far down the road to change. Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) attended the meeting last Monday, and I must say most of us found his comments defensive and the response entirely unwilling to listen to our concerns. In effect, our local Blue Ridge supervisor is too invested in this flawed process himself to adequately hear and address the concerns of the business community.
We are now looking at ways to deal with this, which may involve delaying or canceling further improvements and investment, possible reductions in hours, operations and staff, and other measures to get through this inconvenience. In my own case, I’ve started exploring moving some operations out of the area entirely and closer into Ashburn where the local government is more accustomed to dealing with the needs of the business community. This situation is certainly making it difficult to consider any further investment in the area. It is discouraging to have already invested millions in trying to build a business around Hillsboro, only to see it in jeopardy due to the business community being excluded from decisions that effect our livelihood.
Peter Deliso is the chairman of 868 Vineyards near Hillsboro. He, along with Bozzo Family Vineyards, Breaux Vineyards, Hillsborough Vineyards & Brewery and Notaviva Craft Fementations, recently founded the Loudoun Heighs Agro-Tourism Council.