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Va. 55 in Warren County not in state road program

By Alex Bridges

The state's $13.1 billion road program doesn't include Warren County's biggest transportation concern -- Va. 55 East.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board recently approved the state's Six-Year Improvement Program that includes $13.1 billion for primary roads, bridges and other needs.

As in years past, the Staunton District and particularly the Northern Shenandoah Valley received a small fraction of the statewide pot of money. The program allocates $294.47 million or 2.2 percent of the entire funding amount to the district.

But the program does not include Warren County's No. 1 road priority -- improvements to Va. 55 East, from Front Royal to the Linden interchange with Interstate 66.

Assistant County Administrator Robert Childress said Wednesday the heavily used, two-lane road continues to pose problems for motorists. Childress noted that the program doesn't include money requested by the county for preliminary engineering to at least start the project.

"We realize that the funding just isn't there to cover all the needs statewide," Childress said, adding "We're a bit disappointed" the program doesn't include the Va. 55 project.

The three-mile stretch sees more than 13,000 vehicle trips per day but doesn't meet the Virginia Department of Transportation's current design standards, Childress said. VDOT estimates it would cost $20 million to improve the often hilly road.

"It has a significant amount of accidents on it, which puts a strain on our sheriff and fire and rescue services," Childress said, adding that occasional fatal crashes have occurred on the road. "It's a very challenging road for VDOT to maintain in inclement weather."

Aside from Interstate 66, Va. 55 serves as the only major east-west highway through Warren County. The route also attracts commuters from Rappahannock and Page counties, Childress said. Boards of Supervisors in Page and Rappahannock counties issued resolutions of support for Warren County's efforts to receive funding for Va. 55 improvements.

Warren County supervisors recently approved the local, six-year plan for secondary roads and, as suggested by VDOT officials, put Va. 55 East on the list and earmarked $5,000 for the project, Childress said.

VDOT has allocated money in the program to replace bridges on Morgan Ford Road and U.S. 340-522 over the Shenandoah River and U.S. 340 South over Gooney Creek.

"We feel very fortunate that VDOT is funding so many very important bridge projects in Warren County so we can't be too down," Childress said. "But we will continue to plug away and ask for funding to at least get the [Va.] 55 East Corridor started."

The program also includes money for five cost-sharing projects -- all of which are new to the list -- that aim to improve rural, unpaved roads in the county. Most of these roads lie in the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District. Through the cost-sharing program the county, the property owners association and VDOT share in the cost to pave the roads to state standards and the department takes the routes into its system.

Shenandoah County also received funding for some road and bridge projects, including money needed to replace the two bridges on U.S. 11 that cross Cedar Creek. The $7.2 million project replaces the separate, north- and southbound crossings with a single four-lane bridge and corrects a southbound curve known to play a role in vehicle crashes. VDOT expects to begin construction this fall and complete the project in the fall of 2017.

But Shenandoah County Supervisor Conrad Helsley did not sound surprised by the apparent lack of funding for many other projects prioritized by his board.

"There's not much money allocated to Shenandoah County," Helsley said. "So we talk about projects with little hope of them being done."

Helsley added that little money comes to the county to improve its many miles of unpaved roads and that pushes projects back.

"We just don't have enough of a dedicated source of revenue for roads and I don't see that changing anytime soon," Helsley said.

The program also includes $49 million to reconstruct interchange ramps at the Interstate 81 Exit 310 in Frederick County and Va. 37 South, alleviating tight turns and increasing lane capacity.

The six-year program does include funding to fix pavement along more than 16 miles of I-81 in sections of Augusta, Shenandoah and Frederick counties. The program also includes money to rehabilitate 95 lane miles of primary routes and 110 lane miles of interstate roads in the entire Shenandoah Valley.

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

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