“It’s a beautiful day and it’s a day that marks a turning point for the Town of Hillsboro, Charles Town Pike and the thousands who travel on that road every day,” Mayor Roger Vance told a crowd gathered at the Old Stone School on a sweltering Sunday afternoon. “For nearly 20 years, I’ve known this day would come, but I didn’t know when. But it’s now here.”
Vance made his remarks from a stage filled with representatives of the town government, Loudoun County, the Virginia Department of Transportation, and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority—all partners in the effort to get construction started on a traffic calming and utility system improvement project that has been decades in the planning stages. The $22.2 million project is designed to better control the flow of traffic on Rt. 9, as well as build sidewalks, bury powerlines and improve the town’s water and sewer infrastructure.
“We are reimagining and reclaiming Hillsboro’s ‘Main Street’—the historic Charles Town Pike,” Vance said. “This ‘Main Street’ was once just a footpath trod by Native Americans through a narrow gap in the Short Hills and later followed by Virginia explorers and surveyors, including George and Charles Washington, and Thomas Jefferson.”
Today, the pike carries some 17,000 vehicles though the town each day, mostly commuters rumbling by within feet of the historic homes that line the narrow two-lane road.
The project aims to “tame and reclaim” Rt.9, Vance said. After a two-year construction process, he said Hillsboro would be “among Virginia’s best-preserved 19th century towns, with 21stcentury infrastructure, and innovative congestion mitigating and traffic calming features.”
The groundbreaking celebration is the latest in a series of successes the town has achieved in the past few years. Others include converting the town’s public elementary school, which had been threatened with closure because of its small size and enrollment, into Loudoun’s second public charter school; expanding the town boundaries to incorporate more of the town’s businesses and civic buildings; and winning approval from the U.S. Postal Service to reinstate “Hillsboro, VA” as a location in its ZIP code system.
Much of the credit for those accomplishment has been given to the town’s energetic and creative leadership, topped by Vance and Vice Mayor Amy Marasco. Their work was a theme during remarks by others during Sunday’s ceremony.
While the traffic calming project has been in the works for two decades, it was a public hearing in May that was repeatedly pointed to as a critical moment. That was the night 26 Hillsboro residents took a bus to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority meeting to ensure the promise of $12 million in construction funding would not be lost after the Virginia General Assembly reallocated money to underwrite Metro costs. Initially, Hillsboro was on the cut list, meaning funding could have been delayed for perhaps years.
Marty Nohe, a Prince William County supervisor who chairs the NVTA, and Fairfax County Chairman Sharon Bulova, who also is an NVTA board member, said they were moved by the public’s passion as well as Vance’s and Marasco’s dedication and persuasive powers.
Nohe said when he tells people he is going to Hillsboro, “they actually don’t know where it is. And I say it is this beautiful little town and when you get there, you’ll scratch your head for a minute and ask ‘Are you sure we’re still in Northern Virginia?’ And I’m going to say ‘Yes, not only are you in Northern Virginia, but you are in one of the most dynamic places, I think, in Northern Virginia right now.”
He recalled a conversation with NVTA Executive Director Monica Backman last year when she was coming to Hillsboro to meet with town leaders about their funding application.
Nohe recalled saying to her, “Hillsboro? Is that that little town in far western Loudoun with the crazy mayor who wants 12 million bucks to build some rural road?”
After a five-hour meeting Backman was sold on the need for the project. Later, Nohe would come to the same conclusion after a similar meeting.
“This project has become the new gold standard for how you get a small project funded. They have been working for years to find a way to control costs, to get the engineering done right and to bring together multiple pieces of projects in one phase,” Nohe said.
“This Town of Hillsboro should be extraordinarily proud of the town that you live in, the town that you call home, the town that you love,” Nohe said. “But you should also be proud of the very modern, very state-of-the-art way in which this community thinks about how you want to look and how you want to present yourself for the future, because that is what we are famous for in Northern Virginia and that absolutely extends out here to Hillsboro.”
For Bulova, it was her first visit to Hillsboro. She recalled the night of the May 10 public hearing when the town’s delegation—now dubbed the Hillsboro 26—dominated the public hearing to defend the project’s funding allocation. “More than half the town was there testifying,” she said. “After, I guess, about the 20th speaker, I turned to Marty and said, ‘Please tell me we’re funding this project’ and Marty responded ‘how could we not?'”
Helen Cuervo, VDOT’s Northern Virginia District engineer, said the project will stand as a national example.
“Small towns across the nation are applauding you and saluting you and will probably be calling you tomorrow to figure out how you did this,” she said. Cuervo also credited the town’s leaders, who, she said, never stopped looking for “yes.”
“You made this happen with your persistence and your vision and your goals,” she said.
Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) predicted the project will have an impact beyond improving traffic flow.
“It’s going to be a truly beautiful gateway to Loudoun County. All those folks coming from West Virginia are going to be like ‘Man, I love this town. I want to move here,'” he said.
While the Reed Temple Gospel Choir sang “America the Beautiful,” Vance and the other dignitaries grabbed gold shovels and tossed dirt in the air to ceremonially kick off the construction phase.
Work won’t be starting tomorrow, however. The town will be working through the rest of the year finalizing construction contracts and acquiring needed right of way. Dirt should start moving early next year and the town is planning an extensive public outreach process to keep residents and commuters informed about what to expect.
As for the overall project, community leaders are confident it will be a success.
“In two years, I’m going to bring the biggest golden scissors you have ever seen out here to cut a ribbon,” County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said.