HAMILTON, Va. – 2020 could be a rough year for many Jefferson County commuters.
Along with proposed cutbacks to MARC train service into the Eastern Panhandle, a construction project on Va. 9 through Hillsboro could shut down that route for a year or more.
“The project is a serious issue for Jefferson County commuters,” said Jefferson County Commission President Patsy Noland. “Every weekday morning and evening, there is bumper-to-bumper traffic driving Route 9 to and from work.”
The road could be closed to through traffic as early as January, according to Hillsboro Mayor Roger Vance, who admits final decisions about when and how long the construction will close the highway have not been finalized.
Two single-lane roundabout traffic intersections are planned to be built on Va. 9 at each entrance to Hillsboro. One roundabout will be built at Va. 9 and Hillsboro Road, and the other where the highway intersects Stony Point Road.
The roadway carries about 16,000 daily trips, Hillsboro and Virginia highway officials report.
Virginia Department of Transportation officials direct media questions about the project to Vance, who said commuters from Jefferson County are expected to use U.S 340 to Va. 7 west as an alternate route to Northern Virginia. Vance said U.S 340 toward Berryville, Va., to Va. 7 west is considered an alternative for commuters now using Va. 9 from Jefferson County.
U.S. 340 to Brunswick, Md., is another option. East of Brunswick, commuters can travel to Leesburg on U.S. 15 through Point of Rocks, Md. They can also cross the Potomac River through Brunswick using Md. 287 through Lovettsville, Va., to Va. 9 south of Hillsboro.
The Route 9 construction project blocks Harpers Ferry Road off of U.S. 340 from becoming an alternate detour.
Envisioned since the 1990s, the construction project received a green light from the Virginia Department of Transportation in 2012. Hillsboro officials report that a bypass was considered, but its estimated $100 million price tag was deemed too expensive.
Jefferson County’s local and state legislators said they were all caught off guard about the construction project’s pending start and how it would impact commuters.
West Virginia Division of Highways officials did not respond to questions about that agency’s knowledge and involvement in the road project.
Noland said she first learned about the Va. 9 project about two weeks ago on social media. Commissioners Josh Compton and Ralph Lorenzetti said they learned about the project through recent news reports.
Noland said she hoped a meeting between Jefferson County, Virginia highway and Hillsboro officials could be arranged soon. She added that the project’s potential impact on tourism in Loudoun and Jefferson counties should be considered along with the needs of commuters.
Delegate John Doyle (D-Jefferson) said the Route 9 construction project underscores Jefferson County’s reliance on a few limited if inadequate traffic roadways into Northern Virginia and Maryland.
Proposals to deal with the long-term traffic bottlenecks have relied on cooperation between officials from Virginia and Maryland, Doyle said. A bypass over the Potomac River around Harpers Ferry is a traffic improvement that needs be revived and advanced, he said, adding ensuring access for West Virginia residents to Virginia and Maryland helps all three states and their economies.
“It astounds me the degree to which all three of these states don’t realize their interconnectedness and don’t sit down and say let’s work this out,” he said.
Doyle said Jefferson County residents who work in Northern Virginia should notify their employers about the problems the Route 9 project could create. Virginia companies could potentially have more influence on the project than even West Virginia officials, he said.
“They’re going to say look, ‘Provide my employees with a reasonable detour to get here,’” he said.
Asking Hillsboro’s mayor about the Route 9 project
Editor’s note: The Spirit interviewed Hillsboro Mayor Roger Vance about the pending shutdown of Va. 9 through Hillsboro as work is set to begin on road improvements around the town of about 200 residents. Dubbed ReThink9 by town officials, the project will result in two new roundabouts at each entrance to the town on Va. 9.
Q: What is the current timeframe for the Route 9 project?
Vance: After an all-day technical meeting Friday, Sept. 6, with the Town of Hillsboro, its engineers and Virginia Department of Transportation engineers, we have agreed to eliminate a Maintenance of Traffic approach that would have resulted in a 31- to 36-month project from any further consideration. We are working on other strategies to deliver in a much shorter timeframe. I want to stress that no decisions have been made, other than to keep the process data-driven.
Q: When might construction begin?
Vance: We would hope to award a contract in November, and would expect mobilization to begin in December and construction beginning in January or February.
Q: What decisions are left to be made?
Vance: Ultimately, a decision on a plan for the maintenance of traffic will need to be approved by VDOT, then we can proceed to take the project out for bids.
Q: What other traffic options, such as shutting down a single lane during construction, are possible?
Vance: All options, remain on the table and decisions will be data-driven.
Q: Is nighttime construction being considered?
Vance: Extended hours, nighttime and weekend work are all options to get this construction done in the most efficient, effective and safe manner and in the shortest possible time for all Route 9 users.
Q: What government body will decide how and when Route 9 is shut down?
Vance: VDOT must approve all Maintenance of Traffic plans for highways under their control.
Q: What alternate detours are being considered for West Virginia residents?
Vance: U.S 340 to Route 7 west is considered an alternate route for Route 9 users residing in West Virginia, as is U.S. 340 to Va. Route 7 via Route 287. Extensive traffic analysis of these regional routes in cooperation with VDOT is underway. A local route around Hillsboro is also a viable local detour. No decisions have been made with regard to a road closure or official detours. These will be data-driven decisions ultimately made by VDOT.
Q: When was a green light given for construction?
Vance: The project went through its final design public hearings in 2012, and those plans were approved in 2013 as a VDOT project. Final design, approval and permitting took place in 2018 and 2019, with final approval in May, allowing us to proceed with Invitations for bids in June. We had three qualified bids and rejected them based on cost and the projected duration of the project. We expect to re-advertise for bids, upon finalization of the Maintenance of Traffic plans, in late September or October.
Q: What is the estimated total cost of the Route 9 project?
Vance: The total project cost is estimated at under $25 million. That number is not the current construction cost estimate. Because we are about to put this project out for bids, we are not disclosing our engineers’ estimate for the cost of construction at this time. The costs of the project include the preliminary and final designs, right of way, burial of overhead utilities. The project includes installing a water main and sewer main.
Q: How can commuters and the public stay informed?
Vance: We launched ReThink9.com this summer, and the ReThink9 Dispatch, a newsletter with project news and updates. Jefferson County residents are encouraged to sign up at ReThink9.com. In addition, ReThink9 has a Facebook page and is on Twitter and Instagram.
Q: Is the project designed to deter motorists from using Route 9 through Hillsboro in the future?
Vance: Not at all. The Hillsboro Traffic Calming and Pedestrian Safety project is intended to ease peak-hour congestion by the replacement of traffic signals with two one-lane roundabouts to keep traffic moving smoothly. The roundabouts will also slow traffic as it enters Hillsboro. Traffic-calming features include raised crosswalks, safe on-street parking, street trees and streetscaping. A complete sidewalk system will make Hillsboro pedestrian-safe. The roundabouts are designed to accommodate any size truck permitted to use the highway.