Area officials pitch road needs at state meeting
By Alex Bridges
WEYERS CAVE — Area officials made renewed pitches for regional road priorities at a state transportation meeting Wednesday.
The Virginia Department of Transportation held a public meeting at the Blue Ridge Community College in Weyer’s Cave during which representatives from jurisdictions in the Staunton District spoke on road projects in the recently approved Six-Year Improvement Program.
Secretary of Transportation Aubrey L. Layne Jr. began the session by noting that state funding for projects fell short of expectations by $1.1 billion. This resulted in the state pulling funds allocated in later years of the Six-Year Improvement Program from many projects. A new system will score projects based on congestion, economic benefit, safety, accessibility and environmental impact.
Officials from Frederick and Warren counties pointed out old road projects, most of which lack funding in part because of a loss in projected revenue. Representatives from Shenandoah County also came to the event, but did not speak at the hearing.
Warren County representatives continue to push for funding to widen a 3-mile stretch of Va. 55 to a four-lane, divided highway, from the Front Royal town limits to the Linden interchange at Interstate 66. Improvements are needed to increase safety at the intersection with High Knob Road, County Administrator Douglas Stanley said. The establishment of construction funding for the project remains the county’s top priority, Stanley said. However, the project is not currently listed on the state’s Six-Year Improvement Program, but identified as a top priority in the 2035 Front Royal Area Study performed by VDOT.
“We ask that VDOT advance funding engineering design of this project to allow the county and VDOT to continue to work collaboratively together as commercial growth in the corridor starts to take off with an improved economy,” Stanley said.
Warren County officials also ask that VDOT consider the following projects as funding allows: Installation of turn lanes and a traffic signal at the intersection of Va. 55 East and Freezeland Road to accommodate increasing traffic; and provide additional spaces in the commuter lots, especially necessary when the county loses an informal park-and-ride area in Linden to commercial development; safety improvements to U.S. 340 South up to current design standards.
John Madera, principal planner with the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission, spoke about projects in the agency’s coverage area. Madera urged VDOT to make access roads to the planned Seven Bends State Park in Shenandoah County a priority.
VDOT officials also heard from John Bishop, transportation planner for Frederick County, who said Frederick County “absorbed the lion’s share,” or about 98 percent of the funding cuts imposed by the state.
“So we’re not thrilled right now,” Bishop said. “As you can imagine I am here today to express the [Board of Supervisors’] disappointment with the draft cuts to the Six-Year Improvement Program, particularly those to [U.S.] 277 and [Va.] 37 phase II.”
The U.S. 277 widening project near Stephens City recently received full state funding, in the 2014 improvement program. About 10 days after the state adopted the program, legislators adopted House Bill 2 that called for cutting $6 million from the project. That amount tripled between the public hearing on the project and the final adoption of the program, Bishop said. This marks the second time the state has fully funded U.S. 277 only to be cut, Bishop added. VDOT has worked on the design and held a public meeting on the project.
“That one’s particularly hard for us because it’s been moving forward quite well over the last couple of years since it’s been fully funded,” Bishop said.
After the meeting, Commonwealth Transportation Board member F. Dixon Whitworth Jr. spoke about project funding in the region. Whitworth serves as the representative for the area. House Bill 2 caused further cuts to the U.S. 277 project, Whitworth said.
“I can tell you this — I feel very confident that we will score well when that scoring comes,” Whitworth said. “I have no idea of what it is, but I think that this project has been on the books for so long and it’s been so much of an important part of the priorities for Frederick County, that will be a consideration.”
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or email@example.com