VDOT to study Va. 55 East

FRONT ROYAL – State transportation officials say a study might help Warren County get money to improve John Marshall Highway.

Virginia Department of Transportation’s Staunton District received a Strategically Targeted Affordable Roadway Solutions grant for $220,000 to study a section of Va. 55 (John Marshall Highway) extending east from Front Royal town limits for about 1.82 miles.

The study will evaluate the reconstruction of Va. 55 to reduce hills and curves and to widen the road to four lanes, VDOT announced Monday. The county’s Comprehensive Plan would be a divided highway with a 16-inch, raise median with crossovers and turn lanes.

Deputy County Administrator Bob Childress said Monday that local officials learned last week that the district received the grant.

“We’re very excited to hear that and, in our opinion, (it’s) money well-spent to determine what some of the safety issues and hazards out there are and to look at trying to define what needs to be done to address some of those safety hazards,” Childress said.

Local VDOT representatives sat down with county officials last summer to discuss what specific improvements the agency would need to make to the road, Childress said. At that time, district planner Terry Short agreed to look into STARS grant to fund a preliminary study of the corridor and firm up the county’s application for state money, Childress said.

“As we found out with the couple of applications we submitted last fall, the more detailed the information, the more detailed the actual improvements, the closer or more refined the cost estimates can be, we stand a better chance of competing with other jurisdictions for that limited funding,” Childress added.

County officials are hopeful that the study will bolster the next application for state funding for the project, the administrator added.

VDOT’s announcement comes a few weeks after two charter buses carrying local school children back from a field trip collided on the highway near High Knob Road. The site lies in a section of John Marshall Highway that has been on the county’s radar for years as an area in need of improvements.

The highway section rose to the top of the county’s list of transportation needs after VDOT confirmed funding for the South Fork Bridge replacement project currently underway.

VDOT plans to include input from citizens, local officials and business interests. The agency will hold meetings and show displays for comment. Warren County can use the completed study to strengthen its application for consideration of funding for improvements. The county recently posted on its website a message attempting to assure residents that the section and the entrance to the High Knob subdivision remains at the top of the interstate and primary highway needs list. The county lacks the funds and the state’s financial backing for improvements.

Last fall, the county applied for funding through House Bill 2 seeking money to rebuild the section of John Marshall Highway. Reconstructing the section would improve the alignment to a four-lane, divided highway, county officials have argued. However, the county project was not funded through the House Bill program.

VDOT has focused its attention on the highway in recent years because of traffic incidents in the area, agency officials said.

VDOT’s Transportation and Mobility Planning Division leads the grant program that brings together planners and engineers with local stakeholders to identify cost-effective measures aimed at improving safety and reducing congestion. Projects under the grant program often result in recommended improvements potentially eligible for funding and implementation under maintenance budgets, applications in the House Bill 2 process, the Highway Safety Improvement Program, State of Good Repair budgets or cost-sharing initiatives.

The estimated $25 million project would address numerous safety hazards along the corridor which include substandard geometric, steep grades, blind curves, poor intersection and stopping sight distance, fixed object hazards, narrow shoulders, and substandard drainage.

John Marshall Highway also serves as a commuter route for Page and Rappahannock counties. Approximately 20,000 vehicles travel the route per day.

County staff members are preparing an application for next year’s round of funding and plan to submit it next fall. The county recently asked residents to submit comments via email to Six-YearProgram@VDOT.virginia.gov in support of the application.

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