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County, VDOT eye better neighborhood roads

shenfarms2013_2_15d.JPG
Shenandoah Farms resident Willy Surface and Deputy County Administrator Robert Childress look at plans near the intersection of Drummer Hill Road and Mountain Lake Drive where maintenance of the subdivision routes changes over from the sanitary district to the state. Alex Bridges/Daily


By Alex Bridges

SHENANDOAH FARMS -- Willy Surface says he didn't want the gravel roads in rural neighborhood Shenandoah Farms paved.

That changed after he took over the property owners association committee that handles road maintenance.

More than 40 miles of road wind and weave up and down through the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District. Deputy County Administrator Robert Childress, a former Virginia Department of Transportation official who worked in the region, serves as the district manager. Childress said during a recent drive through the subdivision that filling potholes -- a never-ending task -- consumes time and money.

Not all residents want paved roads or even to see potholes filled, said Patrick Skelley, association board chairman. But improving the roads to higher standards, including paving, could help the neighborhood in the long run.

Surface noted, "Before I was on the board, I used to be in that group that didn't want the roads paved. Since I've joined the board and I was in charge of the roads for a few years ... I learned a lot and I've changed my opinion."

The county last year completed a study of the district's road network and stormwater drainage system. The study pinpointed problem areas such as inadequate drains prone to clogging and causing roads to wash out during heavy rains.

Out of the study, the county developed a list of potential improvement projects for the neighborhood and collected input on the subdivision's needs. Childress then sent the large list to the property owners' association.

"They're certainly the residents of the subdivision," Childress said. "They use the roads every day, so what I may propose may not necessarily be what they have in mind."

The official sought comments from property owners about approximately 30 potential projects, but Childress said he expects to whittle the list to half that number by the time the county approves any of the items. The Board of Supervisors ultimately would need to approve the projects before the county moves forward to finance the work.

In addition to projects likely eligible for VDOT funding, Childress compiled a list of internal priorities for rural additions and future state adoption.

Shenandoah Farms and the county began participating in VDOT revenue-sharing projects in 2009 with improvements to the first section of Fellows Drive.

A typical potential project usually included sections of road with high traffic volumes that were hard to maintain, Childress explained. As the official pointed out, Old Oak Road serves as a major artery through the subdivision.

Skelly noted, "With the resources for capital improvements, it's always one of the first ones we talk about."

The county and the district must follow certain guidelines to receive assistance from VDOT, Childress explained. A road considered for upgrades as a rural addition must already connect to an existing VDOT route under state maintenance, according to Childress. Only a few of the subdivision's roads currently qualify under this rule.

Skelly said that's the endgame.

"Anything that we can get to the point that the state can take it over it doesn't come out of our budget anymore," Skelly said.

The district and property owners can then spend money on other subdivision needs, Skelley added.

However, the county must first upgrade the roads to a certain set of standards established by VDOT before the state can assume responsibility for the road maintenance.

Childress said there has to be connectivity.

"So, as we come in, you might build the first quarter-mile to the first intersection then the next quarter-mile to the next intersection."

The subdivision features many stream crossings that feature large, metal pipes rather than concrete box culverts, to allow water flow. The pipes can and often do clog with debris during heavy rain. The water then flows over the gravel road and strong currents wash out parts of the surface.

Pipes in a crossing over Venus Branch along Thompsons Mill Road often clog during heavy storms.

Surface said that every time there is a hard rain the four pipes in the crossing have to be cleaned out.

Stronger storms such as hurricanes can give the stream enough force to wash out the pipes from the crossing, Childress said.

A potential project for the crossing calls for the district to set aside money for engineering work that would identify the size of a concrete box culvert needed to prevent flooding and wash-outs, Childress explained. The official noted that work on the crossing likely would involve paving, potential widening and the addition of guardrails.

"We can't even begin to think about adding this to the state system until Old Oak is in the state system," Childress said.

Storms and heavy snowfall that block roads such as Pine Ridge Drive can leave many residents looking for alternate ways to travel through and out of the subdivision.

Skelly said that in times of bad weather, "these arteries become very important as access to get people in and out and emergency equipment in and out."

Some residents recently complained about the county's efforts to use district money from homeowners to participate in revenue-sharing projects. The residents claimed the county used their money to pay for work on roads not in their subdivision.

Some lots along Freezeland Road are in the Shenandoah Farms subdivision, but not in the Sanitary District, Childress explained. The road goes through both Shenandoah Farms and Blue Mountain subdivisions, he said, then back into Shenandoah Farms and the Sanitary District at the intersection of Old Linden Road. The majority of the people using nearby Tomahawk Way, which crosses through Blue Mountain, live in Shenandoah Farms.

The county must upgrade Tomahawk Way to connect Old Linden Road to Freezeland Road, a state-maintained route, Childress explained, adding that Blue Mountain property owners, through an agreement with Shenandoah Farms, pay a portion of the cost to pave part of Tomahawk Way.

The condition of many of the subdivision's roads also poses a hazard for school buses. The county established bus stops at points in the neighborhood where the state-maintained routes end and the subdivision's roads begin. However, as Skelley and Surface noted, parents who park and wait for the afternoon buses crowd the roads near the stops. As the county improves roads and the state takes over the routes, the school system would determine whether to send buses further into the subdivision, thus cutting the amount of vehicles at the stops.

The study also took into consideration the anticipated build-out of approximately 1,000 lots remaining in the subdivision. As Skelley explained, this helps predict how much water may flow through the crossings and what size culverts the subdivision would need in the future. A lot owner can look at documents provided by the county to figure out what size culvert to install. Property owners seeking to build a home on a lot can hold contractors to the recommendations in the study documents, Skelley said.

Childress said that from the county's perspective in taking over the road, "I didn't know if any of the culverts were adequately sized.".

Critics complain the subdivision roads need maintenance sooner than later. As Skelley and Surface said, work on repairing potholes and fixing roads occurs daily. Childress added that the elements and temperature fluctuation have a more detrimental impact on unpaved roads. Gravel roads are more expensive to maintain, Skelley said.

Pavement lasts five to 10 years, Childress said.

"Maintenance is an ongoing activity for us," Childress said.

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


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