By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL -- The long-awaited Leach Run Parkway project likely could affect many area residents and property owners when complete.
More than two dozen people showed up to a public information meeting for the project on Wednesday at the Warren County Community Center. Representatives with the project engineer, Pennoni Associates, as well as officials from Front Royal, Warren County and Economic Development Authority provided information and answered questions.
Plans call for the four-lane, divided parkway to connect Happy Creek Road to John Marshall Highway (Va. 55). The design includes sidewalks and bicycle paths as well as a median and trees. The project does not include a section to the north of Happy Creek Road and extending to the Shenandoah Shores area as shown in earlier designs. The Virginia Department of Transportation covers half of the $12 million cost. The county covers 66 percent and the town 34 percent of the remaining cost.
Most of the those attending spoke favorably about the project, saying the town and county have needed the north-south bypass for a long time. Michael Henderson lives on John Marshall Highway at the corner of the proposed intersection with Leach Run Parkway. Henderson said he bought the property about 12 years ago. The Virginia Department of Transportation must acquire his property to make way for the road, a retention pond and to create the sight distance needed for the intersection.
"I think it's gonna be great," Henderson said. "It'll be an asset."
The road should provide some traffic control along the area of John Marshall Highway and Commonwealth Avenue, Henderson said. Though he must move, Henderson noted that VDOT will pay him for his property.
"It has to be done," Henderson said. "I'm not going to stand in the way of progress."
VDOT will need to acquire properties from Henderson's neighbors, he said.
Pennoni representatives Ron Mislowski and Scott Stickley described the project using maps and diagrams and explained the scope of the project. Some people voiced concerns about existing traffic problems on John Marshall Highway and questioned whether the parkway would help or further exacerbate the problem. There are no plans to widen John Marshall Highway, but one idea for the parkway is that the new road would draw traffic from the busy route to points to the north.
Stickley, who also serves on the Warren County Planning Commission, said the engineers studied and calculated the traffic the intersection and routes would experience many years into the future. Such studies usually take into account the traffic created by planned development in the area of the project.
Lewis and Betty Wharton live off Ewell Street, near the area of the proposed parkway, in a house they recently had built.
"We chose to build where we did because we heard this was going to happen," Lewis said.
"It's going to help us because we think it'll be good to get over to the other side of town, to hit John Marshall Highway than to go all the way around," Betty Wharton said. "I know a lot of people don't like it, but we really do. We can't wait for it to happen."
Valley Health stands to benefit from the parkway. The road goes through about 150 acres that Valley Health bought with the intention of building a new hospital on the site. Warren Memorial Hospital President Patrick Nolan spoke highly of the project.
"We love the idea," Nolan said. "We bought it with the hope that Leach Run Parkway would get built over time."
Chris Fries and his wife live on Happy Ridge Drive. They said they feared the project would spur motorists to use their street as a shortcut. The designs show that this likely wouldn't happen, Fries said. They said the town needed the parkway to get from Happy Creek Road to John Marshall Highway. Motorists now travel through town or take Dismal Hollow Road -- a windy, rural route that the Fries said is dangerous.
Several people came to look at the design and said they hadn't formed an opinion yet.
"I own some property down that way," said Happy Creek Road resident Eddie Alexander. "I'm just trying to figure out whereabouts it's going."
Bruce Drummond became involved with the project when he worked as the town's planning and zoning director until 2011. Drummond now serves on the EDA board.
"It's a great idea," Drummond said of the project. "It's a bypass for the town for traffic that doesn't need to be on local streets and it'll also help, eventually, traffic to the industrial park as soon as they can figure out how to build the flyover."
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org