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November 10, 2016

Business reaction mixed about Opal road change

It’s going to be another mess, is the way I feel. I can’t see it fixes the problems they’re having. I’ll be surprised if it does.
— Jeff Miller, Auto Pro 1 owner
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Staff Journalist
Forcing southbound Route 17 drivers to use the Opal interchange makes sense to him.

Rish Equipment Co. Vice President Chip Bohlen initially thought the worst about the plan and its effect on his business south of Sheetz along Marsh Road.

“I was in a panic,” Mr. Bohlen said. “I thought there was going to be no left turn at all. That would have left us with no access for our tractor-trailers.”

To improve safety and traffic flow, southbound drivers soon no longer will be able to turn left at the busy intersection to reach Bealeton and points beyond.

But, the Virginia Department of Transportation’s plan to shut a portion of southbound Marsh Road will not restrict access to businesses and other properties.

A U-turn at the road’s dead-end will allow motorists to pick up Route 17 north to return the Opal intersection.

Drivers would make a left at the intersection and take the interchange to get to Route 17 south.

That “actually might make things a little safer,” Mr. Bohlen said. “It’s going to be a minor inconvenience for tractor-trailers making deliveries. Eighty percent of our business comes from the north (on Route 29). So, they just turn around and head north again.”

Two existing “crossovers” – one of which lies across from Rish Equipment – will remain open.

Except for Sheetz, no business affected by the project seems concerned.

Sheetz leases its Opal site from its real estate subsidiary Steico Inc., which has hired Northern Virginia lawyer Michael Coughlin, who will meet with VODT officials Tuesday, Nov. 15, to discuss his client’s concerns.

Supervisor Chris Butler (Lee District) plans to attend.

“They’re concerned that it will reduce some traffic at their store,” VDOT Engineer Mark Nesbit said. “Obviously, they’re protective of their business and anything that affects their business, they’re going to voice their concerns.”

Mr. Coughlin declined to comment.

But, in an Oct. 27 letter to VDOT, the lawyer stated the Opal Sheetz would experience a “dramatic decrease in customers once the project is complete. We are not convinced that the project has any merit at this time.”

His client “intends to take whatever actions it deems necessary to ensure that” Sheetz’s “customers can conveniently access and exit the property.”

Jeff Miller owns and operates Pro 1 Auto, a vehicle repair business along Marsh Road. Mr. Miller has mixed feelings about whether it will hurt his business.

“I’m not going to say it’s going to affect my business,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of drive-by business. My customers know how to find me.”

But, Mr. Miller suggested the project could make matters worse.

“It’s going to be another mess, is the way I feel,” Mr. Miller said. “I can’t see it fixes the problems they’re having. I’ll be surprised if it does.”

More than 41,000 vehicles a day — many of them tractor-trailers — pass through Opal.

Steve Clark owns a 12-acre vacant lot affected by the project.

“I fully understand the highway department has to do what’s best for traffic flow,” said Mr. Clark, owner of Clark Brothers gun shop and shooting range on Route 29 just north of the Opal intersection. “They built the flyover; they need to use it.”

He believes the market potential for his Marsh Road property plummeted three years ago, when VDOT opened the $44.6-million interchange south of the intersection.

Limiting vehicle access to Marsh Road probably won’t further diminish the property’s development appeal, Mr. Clark said.

“Something’s got to be done” to improve road safety at Opal, he said. “You’ve got traffic making that left turn at the light that stacks up into the through lane. That’s why the traffic binds up. And, you have people changing lanes. It’s dangerous.”

Since the interchange opened, there have been at least 10 rear-end crashes and three sideswipes on southbound Route 29 approaching Opal, according to VDOT. Four of those crashes caused injuries.

Over the years, VDOT has installed signs, marked pavement to direct traffic and adjusted the Opal traffic light to encourage motorists to use the interchange, Mr. Nesbit said.

Supervisors Butler and Rick Gerhardt (Cedar Run) support the Marsh Road section closure.

“It sounds like it’s going to be a viable safety solution for that intersection,” Mr. Gerhardt said. “In general, I’m in favor of anything that makes the intersection at 17/29 safer. I’m leaving it to the professionals.”

Neither supervisor has heard from anyone who opposes the project.

“I haven’t gotten any feedback from the community on this,” Mr. Gerhardt said.

Other than Sheetz’s objections, “it’s been quiet,” Mr. Butler said.

Work on the project will begin will begin Monday. The estimated $85,000-project should be completed in about five days, according to VDOT.

To avoid disrupting Thanksgiving travel, the Marsh Road closure to through traffic will take effect Tuesday, Nov. 29.

Improvements will include a paved turnaround area, signs, road striping and a barrier. The turnaround will accommodate tractor-trailers up to 80 feet long, according to VDOT.

VDOT Marsh Road Project Sheet by Fauquier Now on Scribd

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Ackz2009 · November 10, 2016 at 8:22 pm
Those of us who live in the neighborhood across from Sheetz would have to make a u turn after the interchange just to get to our house!?
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