Town, county leaders hear parkway cost update

FRONT ROYAL – Local officials say they might try to scale back the Leach Run Parkway project to bring it back within budget — or ask for more money.

The Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority set a construction budget for the long-awaited road project of $8 million. The authority received a low bid last month of $13.28 million from Roanoke-based Branch Highways Inc. The overall project budget of $12 million covered design and engineering costs. The project also is a cost-sharing venture involving the town, county and the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Leach Run Parkway is designed as a 1.3-mile, 4-lane highway divided by a median that would connect Happy Creek Road to Va. 55 East (John Marshall Highway). The parkway is expected to connect the planned Swan Farm development, Valley Health’s proposed hospital site and the second middle school anticipated to open by the fall 2017.

Members of Town Council and the Warren County Board of Supervisors heard an update on the project at their liaison committee meeting Thursday. County Administrator Doug Stanley and Town Manager Steve Burke advised that they, along with the authority and project designers Pennoni Associates, were looking at ways to adjust the design or “value engineer” to cut costs.

“So obviously we’ve got a pretty significant gap to try to overcome,” Stanley said, but later noted that about $10.5 million is available for the project.

The EDA had $3.5 million to buy easements and rights-of-way for the project. They can recoup $1.54 million from the sale of about 34 acres to the county for the middle school, Stanley said.

Options to cut the project cost mentioned include scaling back the parkway design from four lanes to two, Stanley noted. The contractor could grade the highway for four lanes but only build two, then construct the other lanes later, Stanley said.

The $12 million overall project budget included $6 million in state funding approved by VDOT. The town can go back to VDOT in October and request additional funding through the cost-sharing program, Stanley said.

“The difficulty is the revenue-sharing pot is shrinking at the state level next year,” Stanley said. “They’ve already given us word on that so, ultimately, you won’t know what that number is until the next General Assembly cycle, but the funding wouldn’t be approved until June of 2016 so you’d have to make the decisions now based on guessing whether or not you might get revenue-sharing funds for the project.”

Since VDOT already approved funding for the parkway, the town, county and the authority could argue they need more money to complete the project, Stanley said.

Front Royal Mayor Timothy Darr asked if VDOT would grant additional funding for an existing project. Stanley said the parties could request more money if they do so within the construction period and leave two lanes unpaved, but not after the project is completed.

“I think right now what we’re trying to do is get to a project that the town, county, EDA can afford right now, get going,” Burke said.

Pennoni is working on a design that either would allow the parties to go back to VDOT for funds to finish the work or to separate the project into phases, Burke said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com