A facelift for South Street?

Artelia Butler crosses this section of South Street in Front Royal on her way home Tuesday. The town has embarked on a project to beautify South Street. Rich Cooley/Daily

A heavily used street in Front Royal might receive a facelift.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is working with the Planning Commission and town officials to look into options to beautify or enhance South Street – a four-lane road that connects Royal Avenue to Commerce Avenue at the southern end of Front Royal. Several businesses exist along South Street, as do roads leading to residential neighborhoods. South Street turns into John Marshall Highway [Va. 55 East].

But Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger contends that the town, its residents and visitors would benefit by enhancing the safety and appearance of South Street. Egger broached the idea before taking office in January and then revived her suggestion to council at a recent work session. Council has since forwarded the matter to the Planning Commission.

“South Street is a huge part of our town economy but right now it’s not an enjoyable place to be and it’s visually unappealing and it’s not safe,” Egger said Monday. “So I think we need to be able to give pedestrians equal priority with traffic so we need to slow the cars; we need to create safe and beautiful places for people so they will seek out going to South Street.”

The town could accomplish these goals through a variety of measures, Egger said. The businesses and ultimately the town would benefit from making South Street a more attractive destination, Egger said.

The street also serves as part of the gateway into town from Va. 55 but lacks a visual appeal, Egger said. The councilwoman questioned the safety of South Street in light of some recent, traffic-related incidents. South Street also cuts through an old neighborhood, Egger explained.

“It’s almost as if we’ve taken a four-lane highway and just plopped it in the middle of our town,” Egger said. “You have a lot of traffic on South Street because that’s the easiest way for people to get in and out.

“But, on the other hand, you have people who live right there who are on foot because that’s the most convenient thing for them, or are on foot because they have to be and so South Street is not a place for them as much as it is the cars and I think we need to change that,” Egger said.

Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp said Monday that VDOT has agreed to perform some preliminary work, at no cost to the town, on what might become a streetscape enhancement project for South Street. VDOT workers will conduct traffic counts and collect other data related to South Street, Camp said.

VDOT officials will come back to the Planning Commission possibly in September or October with some recommendations on how the town might improve South Street, Camp said.

“We were lucky that they had extra funding for small-town planning that they were able to use,” Camp said.

Enhancements to South Street would focus on improving the walk-ability and appearance of the main thoroughfare while maintaining traffic flow and the road’s use as a major truck route, Camp said.

“It’s a much more challenging piece of land than just adding sidewalks and things of that nature because it’s so busy,” Camp said, pointing out that several roads intersect South Street.

Even though South Street has sidewalks, Camp noted that the route hasn’t received as much attention as other parts of town. Enhancements could make it safer for residents to walk in that area, Camp said.

While on a smaller scale, Strasburg has gone through a similar process with VDOT on its downtown streetscape enhancement project. Strasburg has completed the first two phases of the project that called for the replacement of sidewalks, trees and lights and the addition of traffic-calming elements along West King Street. The town coincided the streetscape work with its planned replacement of water and sewer lines under West King Street. Woodstock and New Market also have completed streetscape improvement projects in recent years.

Whether or not a streetscape project for South Street in Front Royal would include utility improvements remains unknown at this stage. Likewise, the scope of any streetscape enhancements would be determined in the future.

Egger didn’t give any examples of improvements the town could implement for South Street, but noted that many communities around the country have made enhancements that Front Royal might use in its situation.

Egger said she hadn’t thought of Strasburg’s streetscape project, but Front Royal should at least look at Strasburg for insight.

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