After months of skepticism, backlash and speculation surrounding the Town of Hillsboro’s road project and associated Rt. 9 closures, most questions have become answers as the day for construction crews to break apart the first segment of asphalt approaches.
The town on Monday announced that VDOT had approved a plan for traffic flow during construction of its Traffic Calming and Pedestrian Safety Project, which will install two roundabouts on either end of town, build sidewalks and bury utility lines. The town has planned the project since at least 2004 and took over control from VDOT in 2017, since advancing it from 60 percent of the way through the design phase to where it stands now—about ready to go out to bid for construction. According to a town statement, VDOT’s approval of the traffic plan was based on data-driven analyses and recommendations made by it and the town’s traffic experts.
The plan calls for Rt. 9 to be closed on weekdays during construction, except for a single eastbound lane to be opened from 4-9 a.m. to allow for the morning rush-hour traffic to move through town. Work will also accommodate weekend westbound traffic, with one westbound lane to be opened from 3 p.m. on Fridays to 5 p.m. on Sundays. For up to 60 non-consecutive days spread out over the project’s 14-month construction timeline, the highway will remain closed through the town all day long.
“I think that we’ve come up with a plan that’s really the best and most effective way to move this project forward,” Mayor Roger Vance told a crowd of about 75 residents during Monday night’s Greater Hillsboro Business Alliance Meeting at the Old Stone School. “I think this plan really does address the needs of everyone to the extent that we can do it.”
Because at least one lane of Rt. 9 will be closed at all times during construction, signage will guide traffic down local and regional detours. The regional detour will direct traffic originating west of Rt. 340 down that highway to Rt. 7. The town expects about 60 to 65 percent of the total daily volume of Rt. 9 traffic to use that detour—meaning about 10,000 to 11,000 of the total 17,000 vehicle trips that cut through the town on a daily basis should be diverted elsewhere during construction.
The official local detour will route eastbound traffic around Hillsboro by taking it down Stoney Point Road to Woodgrove Road, to Allder School Road and then Hillsboro Road and back to Rt. 9.
The new traffic plan comes after two months of discussion between the town and VDOT, following the town’s early August receipt of three construction bids that came in well over the project’s budget—a problem the town and VDOT think they’ve corrected by identifying a plan that will reduce construction time, and costs.
Vance, the project manager, and Vice Mayor Amy Marasco, the deputy project manager, have been working long hours to push the project to construction. Vance said the project will be “messy and dirty” and will upset everyone at some point. Knowing that, he and Marasco have always felt the need to get it done quickly. To bring the construction timeline down from 36 to 14 months, Rt. 9 will have to be closed more frequently than what some residents want. “The most important thing to us is getting it done and getting it done quickly,” Vance said.
To move the project along more quickly, the town will provide the selected construction firm with financial incentives to complete certain components of the project by specific dates, for reducing the number of times the highway is closed completely through town and for completing the project sooner than projected. “We are moving at lightning speed in the world of VDOT,” Marasco said.
At the alliance meeting, Marasco told business owners that one of those incentives would focus on nightwork. She said the selected construction firm would have the ability to speed the project by working through the night if it chooses to do so, since, she said in-town residents are OK with that.
But not all area residents and business owners are completely onboard with the project just yet.
Notaviva Craft Fermentations Co-Founder Stephen Mackey told Vance and Marasco during the alliance meeting that he couldn’t quantify the compromise between the project’s negative and positive effects. He said it seems as though Hillsboro residents and businesses owners are incurring all of the risk.
Marasco responded by pointing out that, once completed, the project would make the town a “gateway destination,” saying that Hillsboro could possibly rival Williamsburg as a tourist destination if, among other initiatives, it hosts walking tours once traffic through the town is less dangerous for pedestrians.
Kerem Baki, the owner of Hillsborough Winery, Brewery and Vineyard, proposed the project be halted until other options could be explored. He said that while he trusts Vance, Marasco and the town, he’s still uncertain about plans to close Rt. 9 so much for such a length of time. He said that doing so would impact business “to a detrimental capacity” and that he’s certain he would lose at least 60 percent of his annual revenue, since the proposed detours would not be sufficient enough to continue bringing visitors to the area.
“We’re not trying to stop the town … we just don’t want them to shut us down in the process,” he said. “We cannot in good conscious approve this plan.”
Baki also underscored that the proposed road closures would have a trickle-down effect on the area economy and that it could be so severe that it would force other businesses, like restaurants, caterers and tour companies, to shut their doors.
Even amid continued, although dwindling, opposition to the traffic plans, Vance and Marasco have held their ground on the matter by emphasizing that the project would benefit the town in the long run.
Vance said the project would provide the town with “a great, elegant solution to a real problem”—that problem being high volumes of speeding traffic through the town. He said the roundabouts would alleviate traffic congestion by moving it through town during the most heavily-travelled times of day while simultaneously slowing drivers down to 25 mph. “What were really doing here is we’re transforming a community,” he said.
The duo assured residents that they would continually release information on the project and road closures moving forward, citing an Oct. 8 public meeting as the first of many the town has planned for the second Tuesday of each month.
Aside from the town keeping residents up to date on the project, there’s also an effort by Visit Loudoun to keep area visitors apprised of the road closures during construction to help continue driving them to northwestern Loudoun.
President and CEO Beth Erickson told business alliance attendees that Loudoun County generates more revenue from tourism than Virginia Beach and Williamsburg, having pulled in $1.84 billion last year. She said that because people might initially decide to stop visiting rural Loudoun when they hear that the roads are torn up, Visit Loudoun would be putting together a communication plan to keep visitors visiting.
Visit Loudoun will host an input session on Oct. 10 at the Old Stone School to begin discussions on that plan.
With traffic flow plans now approved, the town is set to put the project out for bid this month. Vance and Marasco are hoping the bids will come in on budget so they can make a selection on a construction firm by December and get the project underway before the end of this year.
For updates on the project, go to rethink9.com.