The Town of Hillsboro’s long-planned Rt. 9 Traffic Calming and Pedestrian Safety project got underway March 6, when Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier climbed aboard an excavator and moved the first bit of dirt out front of the Old Stone School. Since then, crews have completed 60% of that work, Mayor Roger Vance said.
Archer Western Corp. is handling the project under a $14.33 million contract. Crews since March have been burying utility lines under Rt. 9’s half-mile stretch through the town, adding in sidewalks and retaining walls along the road and constructing roundabouts on each end of town.
Already, Vance said crews have completed work to install new water and sewer lines, stormwater pipes and phone and electric lines underground.
“Everything is in the ground … that’s a huge amount of work that was done,” he said. “There’s a lot packed in there.”
Still to be complete before the anticipated April completion date is the paving of the final layer of asphalt, a bit more work on the roundabouts, completion of sidewalks and a few other odds and ends.
“We’re ahead of schedule,” Vance said, pointing out that town leaders had previously anticipated a May 8 completion date. “There’s a tremendous amount that is done.”
The completion of all of that work is somewhat attributable to a full highway closure that stretched from May 4 to Aug. 15.
The original road closure plan was to begin flagging operations in March but keep the highway through town open until late summer or early fall. From then until May 2021, the plan was to partially and entirely close the highway through town at different times, with a maximum full closure of 60 days spread out across three separate segments. But already, Rt. 9 through Hillsboro has been closed entirely for 104 days—all in one segment—and there are plans to close it entirely once or twice more in the coming months, Vance said.
Beginning May 4, town leaders closed the highway through town entirely to through traffic to allow crews to install a new water main, following a March 31 water main break that left all town water users without running water. That full road closure was expected to last through June 19, but town leaders in June announced the closure would remain in place through Aug. 15 to allow crews to complete more work without interruption from traffic.
The lengthy closure, prompted in part by the decline in commuter traffic because of pandemic business closures and stay-at-home orders—allowed the town to eliminate full closures planned later in the year, but it angered some business owners who claimed the closure had devastating economic impacts.
Since Aug. 16, one-way traffic has been allowed through town with an alternating schedule of westbound and eastbound traffic
Now, town leaders are planning one or two more full highway closures through town in late winter or early spring to allow crews to install raised crosswalks. Vance said they would confirm those dates in the next few weeks.
“We are committed to giving notice [of those full closures] to the public,” Vance said.
Vice Mayor Amy Marasco said there is now “very little” commotion from area business owners surrounding the road project. “I think the businesses saw such an improvement this summer,” she said.
Breaux Vineyards General Manager Jennifer Breaux said that while her winery can weather another full closure, “we’re already dealing with just being OK.”
Amid the road project, Shirley Contracting Co. also completed the more-than-year-long $3.2 million water project, in which crews modernized the town’s water system, installed a 20,000-gallon water storage tank and increased water output by 15 gallons per minute by bringing the new Belle and John Ware Stonehedge Well online. Town leaders dedicated that well July 21. The project led the Virginia Department of Health to lift the town’s more-than 25-year-old boil water notice.
Steve Bozzo, the proprietor of Bozzo Family Vineyards, is among the road project’s most vocal critics. Moving into 2021 and toward the road project’s completion, he said he would prefer no further full highway closures through town. Still, Bozzo said his winery is doing well even with the road project and pandemic at hand; his year-over-year sales are up. He said his team attributes the uptick in business to the normal growth of the new business, which Bozzo opened in mid-2018, increased marketing to areas unaffected by the road closures and his team’s “aggressive protocols” in response to the pandemic that have made customers feel safe to visit.
Breaux said her popular destination venue saw a sharp drop in revenue and in the number of club members during the road closure but has adjusted to impacts caused by the project and the pandemic. But she’s also looking toward the April 2021 highway reopening.
“I think it’ll be great,” she said.