RIPPON – For about three decades in on-and-off stages, state highway officials have had an eye toward widening from two to four lanes the curvy 4.5-mile stretch of U.S. 340 from Charles Town through Rippon to the Virginia border.
The long-anticipated $39 million highway project could break ground this spring or summer, officials now say. If that happens, motorists could enjoy a safer and more expansive segment of that highway stretch two years later, they also reported.
However, acquiring the extra private property along the roadway’s intended path has not yet begun, reported Daniel Watts, state highway construction engineer assigned to the project.
The selected contractor, A.L.L. Construction of Eldridge, Maryland, is working through the project’s right-of-way phase, Watts reported. The contractor is also working through other preliminary steps before breaking ground, including environmental permitting and relocating utility lines.
Watts couldn’t say last week how many property owners would be affected by the roadway widening. “This is part of the right of way phase which the contractor is working through,” he reported.
According to documents posted on the state highway agency’s website, the widening path selected involves Alternative 4A route, one of seven potential routes considered over the years to direct traffic either east or west around the hamlet of Rippon.
Highway officials have held at least a half dozen public meetings on the bond-funded project since 2009. The last was a “workshop public hearing” in 2016.
Safety has been a major reason driving the highway widening. The number of traffic accidents that have occurred along the two-lane section of U.S. 340 has been “more than double” any other section of the highway, according to a state assessment. An official accident injury rate for that portion of the highway is over 10 times the statewide average for such roadways, state officials report.
On Jan. 2, two women died on that portion of U.S. 340—in front of the Rainbow Road Club and Diner—when their car slipped on wet pavement and skidded into another oncoming car in the adjacent lane, police reported.
Steep side slopes, limited sight distances for motorists, narrow travel lanes and shoulder widths, and unprotected fixed objects beside the roadway make the highway more hazardous than other roadways, according to a 2019 state highway report. “Contributing factors to these traffic operations and safety deficiencies include various roadway elements that do not meet current design standards and are considered substandard,” the report states.
Whenever the project’s construction phase begins, A.L.L. Construction will be responsible for directing U.S. 340’s traffic around that activity, Watts stated. However, early construction activities should not impact traffic as most of the widening will be done by building a new road, he explained.
State highway officials will keep the public informed about the project and any traffic detours or disruptions as it goes along, Watts added.
According to the most current state highway counts, cars and trucks make about 14,000 daily trips along that section of U.S. 340. Many motorists and truckers starting in and passing Jefferson County use the route to reach Winchester, Virginia, and the rest of the Shenandoah Valley.