VDOT Fields Concerns, Presents Route 9 Project Mitigation Plan for Clarke County

By Rebecca Maynard

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) approved last month a town of Hillsboro plan that will temporarily divert some Route 9 traffic to Clarke County roads, causing concern for many residents that increased traffic will mean increased problems in the county, particularly during rush hour.

The plan calls for Route 9 to be closed on weekdays during construction, other than a single eastbound lane which will be open from 4–9am to allow morning rush-hour traffic to move through town. One westbound lane will be open from 3pm on Fridays to 5pm on Sundays. For up to 60 non-consecutive days over the project’s 14-month timeline, the highway will remain closed through the town all day.

The approved plan will install two roundabouts on either end of the town of Hillsboro in western Loudoun County, build sidewalks, and bury utility lines. According to a town statement, VDOT’s approval of the traffic plan was based on data-driven analyses and recommendations made by it and the town’s traffic experts.

All community members were invited to a public information session on October 29 in the Berryville-Clarke County Government Center, where VDOT engineer Ed Carter gave a talk about a mitigation plan designed specifically for Clarke County. He welcomed questions and concerns from residents. The Clarke County Board of Supervisors and Sheriff Tony Roper attended.

The VDOT plan for Clarke County is based on current data analysis. Construction may begin by the end of this year, but detours and road closings affecting Clarke County will likely not begin until spring. Carter presented the following components of the mitigation plan.

Increased law enforcement: Speeding is a major concern with existing traffic. It is anticipated that instances of speeding will be amplified with the increased traffic from the detour. Funds have been approved for dedicated law enforcement along the detour route during the construction phase of the project.

Signal modifications for U.S. 340 & Va. 7 intersection: Both left turn movements from U.S. 340 south onto Va. 7 east and U.S. 340 north onto Va. 7 west will be upgraded to “flashing yellow” operation. This will allow left-turning vehicles to proceed after yielding to oncoming traffic when the oncoming traffic has a green signal indication. The three signals will have equipment installed establishing high-speed communications, allowing continuous monitoring of the intersection and live signal-timing adjustments based on changing traffic conditions.

Widening west-bound Va. 7 off-ramp at U.S. 340: The Va. 7 off-ramp will be widened for 500 feet at U.S. 340 to establish two lanes on the ramp. This will allow continuous right turns onto U.S. 340 north and alleviate stacking on the ramp during evening peak-hour traffic.

Mitigate cut-through traffic on Route 612 during peak hours: Restrict Route 612 to “Local Traffic Only.” Prohibit left turns onto Route 612 from U.S. 340 southbound (north of Berryville) during morning peak traffic. Prohibit right turns onto Route 612 from Va. 7 westbound (east of Berryville) during evening peak traffic. Establish traffic count stations to monitor traffic counts on Route 612 throughout the project.

Upgrade warning lights at Va. 7 and Route 601: Dynamic warning flashers will be installed eastbound and westbound on Va. 7 to detect vehicles on Route 601 attempting to enter the intersection. These flashers will activate only when the vehicle approaches the intersection instead of continuously as they do now. Law enforcement will be stationed at the intersection with emergency lights activated as needed.

Several citizens living on feeder roads to Va. 7 expressed concern that increased traffic will make it difficult for them to turn onto Va. 7 during rush hour. “I already sit there for 7 to 10 minutes every morning waiting for an opening,” said a resident who lives on Blue Ridge Mountain Road (Route 601) near Bluemont.

Carter said that he hopes increased police presence and more speeding tickets being given will help, along with the dynamic warning flashers. He also explained that a traffic light at Route 601 was not possible because it would pose a danger in icy conditions.

Several residents from Shepherds Mill Road (Route 612) expressed concerns about increased traffic on their road, and also about the current speed limit of 55 miles per hour. Jo Bighouse, owner of Serenity Farm Store on Shepherds Mill, recently lost her dog Colby after a speeding driver hit him and did not stop. 

Bighouse and other supporters of the Slow Down Shepherds Mill Road campaign (found on Facebook) asked VDOT to consider lowering the speed limit, and Carter responded that it cannot be done unless an engineering study supports the change. An engineering study of the road was done within the last couple of years, he said, and the data at that time did not support the lowering of the speed limit.

Board of Supervisors Chairman David Weiss (Buckmarsh district) said that he understands his constituents’ concerns and is happy to meet with anyone who wishes to discuss Route 612 or other issues.

Multiple people wondered how the prohibition of Route 612 turns during rush hour would be enforced.

“If nothing’s keeping them from doing it other than a sign, they’re going to do it,” a 
resident said.

“We’re planning on a significant law enforcement presence who will be ticketing, which should deter people,” Carter said.

“I really do appreciate your comments and I haven’t heard a single suggestion this evening that wasn’t legitimate,” Carter said to the room of concerned citizens. He thanked them for their courtesy and explained that the mitigation plan is fluid and will be evaluated on an ongoing basis.

“I appreciate you not purporting to have all the answers,” said Berryville District Supervisor Mary Daniel, who thanked Carter for his willingness to listen and make changes as necessary.

Carter addresses the Board of Supervisors at each of their monthly meetings, which are held at 1pm the third Tuesday of the month and are also open to the public. He said that future public information sessions will be held, so interested or concerned citizens should visit 
www.clarkecounty.gov or call 550-955-5175.