Hillsboro leaders are pushing ahead with a new plan to get their long-planned Pedestrian Safety and Traffic Calming Project under construction after the first round of bids came in too far over budget. But the proposal is coming under fire from out-of-state commuters who could be forced to find new routes to work.
Although town leaders were set to re-advertise for construction bids last Thursday, that action was delayed to allow the exploration of an alternative that could save millions of dollars while getting the work complete within a year—and two years earlier than expected.
To accomplish those goals, the Rt. 9 work zone in the town would have to be closed entirely to through traffic for nine to 11 months, starting as early as February. That would be expected to have the greatest impact on commuters from West Virginia and Maryland, responsible for about 16,000 of the 17,000 vehicles moving through the town each day.
That option was discussed with regional public safety leaders during an Aug. 28 briefing where Hillsboro Mayor Roger Vance and other project managers sought input on challenges that would come with the plan. Rather than a dialogue on the alternatives, the meeting sparked strong objections from Clarke County leaders, who issued a statement warning that diverting Rt. 9 traffic flowing from West Virginia and Maryland on to Rt. 7 and Rt. 340, as well as local roads, would have significant impact. A statement issued by the county warned that, “As a result of the additional traffic, more people will be injured or killed on these roads,” and that “The cost of greatly increased traffic—EMS, law enforcement, and road maintenance–will be borne by the localities in which they occur.”
Vance said he was surprised by the tone of the criticism and that elements of the statement were “a clear misrepresentation of the facts.” He said the town was “working closely with VDOT on alternatives to the maintenance of traffic plan to save time, ensure product quality, save taxpayer money and ensure a safer work zone.”
“Close collaboration on a data-driven analysis is underway and no determination has yet been made. The purpose of the [Aug. 28] meeting was to solicit feedback from our first responders as a data point for the Town and VDOT in their analysis of [Maintenance of Traffic plan] options,” Vance wrote in a rebuttal of the Clarke County statement.
During the first responders meeting, Vance said there was agreement that the project would result in more traffic being diverted to alternative routes during construction under any scenario and that getting the project done more quickly would reduce the public safety risk.
“The option of alternating lane closure for 31 to 36 months is dangerous to workers and motorists and increases risks exponentially,” Vance wrote.
He also noted that Rt. 9 through Hillsboro is likely to become a prime alternative route for motorists in 2021 when Rt. 340 is slated for closure for a construction project there.
“We live in a tri-state area and all of our roads are part of a larger network, each of our communities can help relieve congestion burden when we work together. All of our communities and all our motorists will benefit greatly from our ability to deliver road improvements in the shortest time frame possible,” Vance wrote.
Vance said if agreement can be found on the Maintenance of Traffic plan, he hopes to open new bids sometime in October and be able to award a contract and get the project underway by the end of the year.
“We’re really shooting for Dec. 1,” he said. “We remain on a very fast track to get this thing underway and under construction.”
The town’s decision to delay the advertisement follows its action in early August to reject the three bids initially received. General Excavation bid $19.95 million, A&M Concrete Corp. bid $20.82 million and Shirley Contracting bid $24.99 million—all about $5 million to $10 million over the engineer estimates for the project, which is intended to slow Rt. 9 traffic through the 0.27-square-mile town by constructing a roundabout on Stoney Point and Hillsboro Roads and create a safer place for pedestrians by installing new sidewalks.
Upon cancelling the bids, the town planned to re-advertise the project on Aug. 29 and has been working with VDOT ever since to amend the scope of work and lower costs.
Vance said that while the town and VDOT have “loosened up the strings” as far as where contractors will be allowed to find materials, the most significant savings are tied to the contractor’s ability to close Rt. 9 at least at certain times of the day.
An alternative to a nine- to 11-month full closure is to have a full closure for six months, followed by six months of alternating one-lane traffic and then six months of non-peak hour flagging controls.
“Everything is on the table—we’ve got to look at all the options,” he said. “We’re very cognizant of everybody’s concerns,” he said. “We owe it to ourselves and VDOT to do a full analysis.”