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September 13, 2018

Despite critics, Marshall Main St. plan will proceed

Photo/Don Del Rosso
Zak Bradley (left), an engineer with Warrenton’s Carson Land Consultants, and Mike Meish of Marshall discuss the Main Street improvement project Tuesday night.
Land Planning Design Associates
This drawing outlines the improvements slated at Main Street and Winchester Road.
This project, even though it’s not what we all wanted, is an economic benefit to the community. It would be a beautification to the community.
— Mary Leigh McDaniel, Marshall District supervisor
Marshall Main Street Project
Key features include:

• New sidewalks and crosswalks along Main Street from just east of Winchester Road (Route 17) to just west of Frost Avenue near the IGA.

• New sidewalks and crosswalks on Winchester Road.

• Moving electrical, phone and cable TV lines underground, eliminating utility poles.

• New street trees, lamps, benches and landscaping.

• A decorative, knee-high brick wall fronting 7-Eleven store at Rectortown Road and Main Street.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
It took about 15 minutes for sparks to fly at the Marshall Main Street project meeting Tuesday night.

For much of an hour-long question and answer period, several audience members voiced strong opposition to planned “beautification” improvements along a one-block section of Main Street largely because the approximately $5 million plan no longer includes moving utility lines underground and eliminating their poles.

Due to soaring constructions costs in recent years, burying utility lines and related work would cost an additional $1.2 million to $1.6 million, according to county government.

For budget reasons, the county has eliminated that component from the project.

Hosted by the Marshall Business & Residents Association, the Sept. 11 meeting took place in the Marshall Community Center auditorium. About 70 people attended the project update.

Supervisor Mary McDaniel (Marshall District) county staff, the project’s design consultant and a Virginia Department of Transportation representative discussed and took questions about the project.

“The idea that the power lines were going to be put underground was the moving force behind our endorsement of this project,” Patty Cloud said of the MBRA, which hosted the meeting.

“Why are we here in September talking about not getting what we were presented with when this design was first given, when we were first told we’re going to beautify Marshall?” asked Ms. Cloud, who serves as MBRA’s treasurer and owns a Main Street building in the project area.

(Because the project no longer calls for underground utilities, MBRA’s board no longer supprts the project.)

Work on the Main Street project began about a decade ago.

Issues related to a federal grant spending deadline, escalating project costs and easement acquisition, figured into the county’s decision to exclude undergrounding utilities from the project, Supervisor McDaniel explained.

Improvements between just east of Winchester Road (Route 17) to just west of Frost Avenue near the former IGA building include new sidewalks, crosswalks, street trees, lamps, benches and landscaping.

But those improvements don’t go far enough, said Ms. Cloud, who believes utility lines should be buried as promised.

“I’m definitely not in favor of the project the way it stands now,” she said. “What they call beautification is going to be — what’s the phrase? — lipstick on a pig.”

A few people suggested the county walk away from the project. One recommended Fauquier give up the grant so that it could be spent in another community.

If it did so, the county would have to reimburse VDOT about $450,000 spent mostly on engineering work.

Detractors also worried about proposed changes involving Main Street width and parking would be counterproductive.

“My concern is the width’s going to be narrower in the travel lanes,” Ron Hoylman said in an interview. “It’s’ 12 feet now and they’re going to narrow it to 11. It’s dangerous now.”

VDOT Resident Engineer Mark Nesbit assured the audience an 11-foot-wide lane would accommodate Main Street traffic.

Narrowing the lanes wouldn’t result in the loss of parking spaces, Ms. McDaniel said.

Others who attended the meeting support the project.

Neal Wavra, whose Field & Main restaurant lies within the project area, suggested that the project’s funding formula made good business sense.

Under the grant, the federal government will contribute $3.6 million and the county a 20-percent match of $643,000 to the project.

Fauquier’s share will be paid with revenue generated through a special tax district. District property landowners will have 2 cents added to their county real estate tax levy (98.2 cents this year). They already pay an extra 0.5-cent, per $100 assessed value, for streetlights in the village.

A $400,000 developer proffer will pay for drainage and utility work at Main and Frost streets.

“It’s good value for the investment,” Marshall businessman Paul Lawrence said of the funding formula interview.

Mr. Lawrence, whose family owns a building on the block that would be improved, predicted the “return on investment” — more business activity in Marshall generating additional tax revenue, for example — will exceed the county’s match.

Marshall Realtor Anne Michael Greene, whose office lies outside of the project area, believes it would be short-sighted to reject the grant over the utility lines component.

“There are safety issues that need to be addressed,” Ms. Greene said of heaving, concrete sidewalks.

Though she appreciates the frustration of those who want utility lines buried, the project includes new sidewalks, defined on-street parking spaces and other improvements, the Realtor said.

“We’ve got to see the whole picture with these issues.”

While the Marshall supervisor seemed sympathetic to the project’s critics, she remains committed to it.

“At this point, the project is going to go through,” Ms. McDaniel said. “We’re going out to bid with it. The funds have been raised. The county and the engineers and VDOT have been working on this for 10 years.”

“This project, even though it’s not what we all wanted, is an economic benefit to the community,” the Marshall supervisor said. “It would be a beautification to the community.”

Fauquier by Nov. 20 must get from VDOT approval to bid the project for construction. Otherwise, it will lose the grant.

A sharp increase in construction costs and the county’s inability to obtain all easements related to the utility component have further complicated the project.

“The last time we sort of updated the cost was in fall 2015,” Ms. McDaniel said. “And at that point we were still within shooting distance of the budget.”

But over the last 18 months, construction costs in the region have jumped by 30 percent, she added.

Burying utilities and related project work would add at least $1 million to the total, Ms. McDaniel said.

Citing other pressing county construction projects, the board of supervisors in the spring chose not to close that funding gap, she explained.

“We had no way of raising” additional money to meet the federal government grant deadline, Ms. McDaniel.

The county also will be unable to get about four easements necessary to moving utilities underground by the November grant deadline.

“If we can’t get the easements signed, then (undergrounding utility lines) can’t happen,” Ms. McDaniel said.

Fauquier concluded it couldn’t meet additional funding and easement challenges by the federal grant deadline, said.

But Ms. McDaniel hopes that undergrounding utilities can be addressed in the future.

“We’re working on that piece of it, but given the deadline in November, we’re not going to have the funding to do it in this particular project.”

Mr. Lawrence and other Marshall business people hope to meet with Commonwealth Transportation Board members to ask them to press the Federal High Administration to extend the grant deadline.

An extension would give the group time to “work” with the board of supervisors and perhaps others to raise $400,000 to $500,000 to install underground conduits to accommodate utility lines as part the project, he said.

That would give the community and the county additional time to address easement and funding needs to complete the project’s utility component, Mr. Lawrence said.

“Not all is lost,” said Mr. Lawrence. “I’ve learned in business behind a ‘No,’ there’s a ‘Yes.’ We just have to get there.”

Work on the three- to four-month project should begin in the spring, Ms. McDaniel said. It will include:

• New sidewalks and crosswalks along Main Street from just east of Winchester Road (Route 17) to just west of Frost Avenue near the IGA.

• New sidewalks and crosswalks on Winchester Road.

• New street trees, lamps, benches and landscaping.

• A decorative, knee-high brick wall fronting the 7-Eleven at Rectortown Road and Main Street.
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Cmel29 · September 14, 2018 at 11:17 am
Brick crosswalks seem like a nice idea.... but how long will they hold up with all the logging trucks/dump trucks/tractor trailers that come through there several times a day? I wish something would be done to restrict those types of vehicles from barreling through, as they do.
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