Finishing touches: Leach Run Parkway project nears end

FRONT ROYAL – Motorists wanting to drive on the long-awaited Leach Run Parkway need to wait a little longer.

FRONT ROYAL – Motorists wanting to drive on the long-awaited Leach Run Parkway need to wait a little longer.

The new route between John Marshall Highway and Happy Creek Road remains an active construction site as crews work to complete the project by the end of the month. Town officials have warned motorists to not drive on the parkway yet.

The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority has spearheaded the project that  the contractor, Branch Civil, formerly Branch Highways, expects to reach substantial completion by June 24, though the construction contract imposes a deadline of June 29, EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald said Monday.

Branch will work on punch list items once they reach substantial completion, said Karl Schaeffer, senior technical manager for the project designer Pennoni. The parkway should open for use in early July, McDonald said. The EDA plans to announce the parkway’s opening once the contractor gives the OK.

“It’s been on the plan for 30 years,” McDonald said. “The goal (of the parkway) was to relieve traffic from (state Route) 55 and Happy Creek Road and have a connector road that would connect Happy Creek Road and John Marshall Highway so that the residents that lived out in Shenandoah Farms, Shenandoah Shores area did not have to drive all the way … through town and back up to John Marshall Highway to get to a location.”

The EDA also sees the parkway as an economic development tool that improves access to the Happy Creek Technology Park and draws traffic away from the two-lane Happy Creek Road.

“We’ve always had issues with the Happy Creek Park and access to that park so I think this will help tremendously,” McDonald said.

Construction of 1.3-mile connector on the east side of Front Royal began in 2015 after years of talks among town and county leaders and officials. The parkway was developed to the preliminary design stage more than 20 years ago.

The four-lane, limited-access highway features a 35-mph speed limit, streetlights along the entire route, sidewalks on both sides, bicycle lanes, and a median divider. The route stretches approximately 7,000 feet long and typically 105 feet wide, with travel lanes spanning 25-feet wide.

“It’s more of a parkway than a highway,” Schaeffer said.

The project also included intersections controlled by traffic signals at Happy Creek Road and John Marshall Highway. The parkway includes the access points for the middle school and a church at the southern end of the road. The design features potential turns into other properties along the route.

The project has been in the works for more than two decades with the most action starting a few years ago. The EDA held a public information meeting jointly with town and county officials on the project in early March 2014. The EDA along with town and county officials broke ground on the project in mid-December 2015. A news release issued at the time of the groundbreaking stated that the EDA expected Branch Highways to complete the project by the end of 2016. Inclement weather in early 2016 delayed the project but crews made up for lost time later in the year and early this year.

The project also required relocation of the utility lines, a process that caused some delays toward the end of the construction, Schaeffer said. The telephone company needed to move overhead lines along John Marshall Highway at the project site.

The terrain didn’t pose much trouble for the construction crews. Workers hit almost no rock as they cleared their way from one end to the other. Crews didn’t have to blast or use a hoe-ram during the construction, Schaeffer said.

The EDA received funding through the Virginia Department of Transportation cost-sharing program. The Commonwealth Transportation Board approved the town’s request to consider the parkway as a cost-sharing project. VDOT plans to cover 50 percent of the project cost. The town and county split the remaining cost 34 percent and 66 percent, respectively. The low bid for the project came in over the initial estimates. The EDA and town and county officials discussed funding options to cover the cost over the estimates.

The Virginia Department of Quality and VDOT had to approve the road’s design. Front Royal also is also responsible for the road’s design and maintenance. The road ultimately becomes the town’s responsibility once completed.

The EDA spent almost $3.72 million to acquire more than a dozen properties necessary for the project. Most of the land came from the Ramsey property, which cost roughly $1.07 million. Other landowners received $25,000 to $463,531 for their properties depending on the size of the parcels. The EDA spent $11,500 to secure temporary easements for use during construction.

Total cost for the project is estimated at $15.87 million.

Parties also coordinated the construction of the project with the completion of the second county middle school at the north end of Leach Run Parkway at Happy Creek Road. The middle school will open later this summer.