A $27 million bridge project in Warren County would allow Rockland Road traffic to travel over trains stopped on railroad tracks.
But motorists who use the road must wait until 2025 before they can see relief.
The Virginia Department of Transportation held a public hearing on a project designed to eliminate the problem created when trains stop on the Norfolk Southern Railway and block the crossing at Rockland Road. VDOT held the “virtual” hearing via the internet. Elizabeth G. Jordan, an environmental specialist for VDOT’s Staunton District, gave the presentation at the beginning of the hearing. The project remains in the early development stages, Jordan said.
VDOT plans to build a bridge on Rockland Road over the Norfolk Southern Railway north of Front Royal. The project would create a “grade-separated” crossing, or bridge, over the railroad tracks, with the goal of improving traffic flow on Rockland Road.
The agency anticipates construction to begin Dec. 30, 2023, with completion in the spring of 2025.
“When complete, this bridge will allow the traveling public to pass over the Norfolk Southern Railway unimpeded,” according to VDOT.
Motorists experience frequent, long delays at the railroad crossing when trains traveling through the corridor or unloading at the Virginia Inland Port stop and block Rockland Road. Trains also block Warren County Public Schools buses, causing delays in picking up or dropping off students.
Comments made by participants in the public hearing were not included in the official record. Jordan referred participants or anyone interested in making remarks about the project to four other ways they can provide comments for the record. All comments must be received or postmarked by July 1. Comments will be collected for the official record and officials will address them as needed. The public can also take a survey available on the VDOT project page and the responses and comments will be made part of the record, officials have said.
Members of the project design team attended the hearing to answer questions. VDOT Communications Manager Sandy Myers moderated the hearing. Myers explained to participants how they could speak or submit comments during the hearing. At least one speaker said he could not connect via computer so he participated by phone. He spoke in support of the project and asked how much land from his property would VDOT need for the project. Jordan said VDOT would need to acquire approximately 0.662 acres of his property for the right-of-way. In response to the caller’s other questions, Jordan said the goal is to maintain access to Fishnet Boulevard and Fishnet Ministries Church. Phasing requires crews to relocate the road before building the next phase of the project.
Another speaker asked if the large stormwater collection pond included in the design could be converted into a conservation project such as a rain garden. VDOT is following environmental regulations as it proceeds with the project. However, part of the collection pond includes park property and a rain garden falls outside the scope of the project.
VDOT designed the project around sinkholes that serve as habitat for the Madison Cave isopod, Jordan said. The collection facility also would treat stormwater not previously treated, she added. But other amenities might be worked out with Warren County when it further develops its recreational park, she said.
VDOT estimates the average daily number of vehicles that travel on Rockland Road to increase from 2,200 in 2019 to 5,590 by 2046.
VDOT estimates the project to cost $27,371,830 — $1,940,393 for preliminary engineering, $3,491,616 for right-of-way acquisition and $21,939,821 for construction. The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded a grant to the Virginia Port Authority that covers approximately $15 million of the project cost. The remainder of the money comes out of VDOT’s Six-Year Program budget. The project is fully funded, Jordan said.
VDOT has made progress on the project over the past few months, Jordan said.
“But when we submitted the initial (cost) estimate, we didn’t necessarily have a handle on what it would take in order to build this project,” Jordan said.
VDOT staff did not foresee the cost of hauling in fill dirt for the project, Jordan explained. Some of the costs remain uncertain, she said.
“The total project cost could change but I think we’ve done a pretty good job of capturing everything at this point in time and, moving forward, perhaps there’s a chance it won’t cost as much,” Jordan said. “But we’re gonna keep our eye out as we continue to work out some of the issues, especially with the geotechnical work.”
The project calls for the construction of a bridge spanning 220-feet long and 42-feet wide with a minimum clearance height of 23 feet over the railroad tracks. The height can provide clearance for double-stacked freight containers. Trains can pass under the bridge while Rockland Road traffic remains uninterrupted. The length of the bridge also allows for the future construction of a third rail line.
The project includes improvements to Rockland Road where it approaches the bridge. The project also calls for the realignment of Fishnet Boulevard at the entrance to Rockland Park. Specifically, the project would shift Fishnet Boulevard and the park entrance to the east and away from the railroad tracks. This would provide space for the construction of a right-turn lane into the park. The new park entrance would align with a new entrance road for Cornerstone Baptist Church.
The project also includes a new access road to the natural gas facility and a realigned service road for Alleghany Power. Rockland Road and bridge would include paved shoulders wide enough for bicycles and pedestrians.
VDOT would need to acquire approximately five acres of land for the right-of-way for the project, including two acres for a permanent easement.
VDOT also designed the project to preserve sinkhole areas that serve as the habitat for the protected species the Madison Cave Isopod. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the project likely would not adversely affect the isopod, a federally threatened species. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources determined that the project would not affect historic properties.
VDOT anticipates advertising the project for bids in the summer of 2023 and construction to begin in late 2023. VDOT plans to close Rockland Road for the duration of the construction and detour traffic. Rockland Park will remain open to the public during construction.
Visit https://www.virginiadot.org/projects/staunton/rockland_road_virtual_public_meeting.asp for more information about the project, materials from the presentation and different ways to submit comments for the official record.