Following weeks of mounting tension over possible Rt. 9 closures through the Town of Hillsboro that could begin as early as the end of this year, area business owners this week were given some of the answers they may have been losing sleep over.
Close to 30 businesses owners and residents gathered Wednesday in Hillsboro’s Old Stone School, as Mayor Roger Vance and Vice Mayor Amy Marasco provided further information on the town’s Traffic Calming and Pedestrian Safety Project, which will construct roundabouts on each end of the town and could requireclosures of Rt. 9 in both directions through the town at certain times of day, possibly beginning in December. The town is considering those closures in an effort to reduce construction time from three years to less than one, resulting in cost savings, but many residents and business owners have expressed concern over the idea.
As Vance, the project manager, and Marasco, the deputy project manager, answered questions concerning project timelines and the town’s long-term goals, a common assertion emerged—that the town has not made any decisions on whether it will close Rt. 9 through town in its entirety during construction.
Vance opened the forum by giving the residents a bit of background on the project, which he noted is being managed solely by the town, not VDOT.
Vance said Clarke County representatives attended an Aug. 28 meeting with first responders, then began spreading misinformation on the project that led many residents to believe that Rt. 9 would be permanently closed throughout the whole project. “I’m sorry that the misinformation was maliciously put out there,” Vance said.
He said that while he’s been deflecting “negative” and “untrue” information since that meeting, the town is “moving forward” in its talks with VDOT on how it can limit project costs via possible full road closures through town that would reduce construction time, which could otherwise run up to 36 months, to less than a year.
Vance acknowledged the project will require full closures of Rt. 9 through town at certain times and that people will be inconvenienced, but said his intent is to get the project done “as quickly as possible to minimize that impact.”
“We are trying to find the best way to make this work,” he said.
Vance noted that the town has spent $75,000 in traffic analyses to find “creative ways” to minimize road closures. He told people at the meeting Wednesday that the town is looking at full closures possibly on weekdays after the morning rush hour, but that the road could be reopened for weekends beginning Friday evenings to provide access to area businesses. “We want weekend access to western Loudoun maintained,” Vance said.
Notaviva Craft Fermentations Co-Founder Stephen Mackey asked about the 85 underground crossings of Rt. 9 that will be made during construction, and whether they would be made to help calm traffic or if they’re solely dedicated to town infrastructure—seeing that the project also includes the burial of overhead utility lines and the installation of new water and sewer lines and a stormwater management system under Rt. 9.
Vance said those crossings were rolled into the road project to save the town time and money. He said doing that made more sense, as opposed to either first completing the road project and later tearing up the asphalt to install utility lines or first installing utility lines and then undertaking the road project, which could damage the new utility lines. He referenced the “40-some homes here that all need potable drinking water, which they don’t have now.”
“We think we saved years of disruption to this entire corridor,” he said.
Marasco said combining the projects would be an “elegant way” to bring the town’s $3.2 million water project to fruition alongside the road project.
“We are not putting improvements in for improvements’ sake,” she said. “We cannot continue in a town without potable water.”
Mackey also mentioned the ReThink9 website, which provides residents with background and updates on the road project. He said he recently viewed a section of the site that outlines the project goal—to encourage traffic, specifically trucks, over time to find transportation routes other than Rt. 9 through Hillsboro.
“That seems to be completely at odds with the town’s drive to support businesses,” he said. “If you’re trying to put that message out there … that is a very negative impact on our businesses,” he said.
Marasco, the owner the Fieldstone Farm bed & breakfast, said she had never thought about the project in that way and that, as a businesswoman herself, she understands the concerns.
“You have a person sitting here who’s the deputy project manager who also really, really cares about getting that [road closure] schedule nailed down as soon as possible,” she said.
When Hidden View Bed & Breakfast Owner Ray Shields asked when business owners would know about the road closure schedule, Marasco said the town would get its first view of the closures by December, assuming the project remains on track and the town selects a construction firm to handle the project in the next two and a half months. She said she didn’t anticipate any surprises.
Marasco said the town has a 40-page communication plan that it will use to ensure constant communication with residents, business owners and neighboring jurisdictions once the project begins. Vance assured the business owners that he was looking after their interests “as best I can” and that a mandatory pre-bidders conference to be held by November would have prospective contractors in townto go over project details.
“We want contractors to understand every facet of it,” he said. “I’m an advocate for every one of your businesses.”
Visit Loudoun President and CEO Beth Erickson told the residents that her organization would help the town develop a communication strategy to let visitors know that local businesses will remain open during the road project construction. “I think that’s a great role for us to play,” she said.
Vance assured residents that once the town has a plan in place, he and Marasco would call another meeting with business owners.
“We’ll come to you. We’ll come to groups. We’ll do whatever you want to do,” he said. “All of us are in this together. Let’s make it work.”
After rejecting three construction contract bids received in August, all of which came in well over the budget for the road project, Vance said the town is now striving to re-advertise construction bids by October, award a contract by December and get the project underway by the end of the year.
“Our hope is to get this thing built in 2020,” he said.