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June 12, 2019

Route 29 detour plan raises many citizens’ concerns

Photo/Don Del Rosso
Billy Myers, a contract administrator with Chemung Contracting Corp., addresses the audience Tuesday night at Battlefield Baptist Church.
File Photo/Lawrence Emerson
The contractor plans eight to 10 days of blasting next month to break up rock on Route 29 just south of Vint Hill Road.
The main issue here is we know it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a mess.
— VDOT District Engineer John Lynch
“Pardon Our Dust” Meeting
• Purpose: Discuss planned safety improvements and construction schedule to remove two hills along northbound Route 29 to enhance visibility approaching the Vint Hill Road intersection near New Baltimore.

• When: 6 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, June 11.

• Where: Battlefield Baptist Church near New Baltimore.

• Host: Virginia Department of Transportation.

• Turnout: About 70.

• Closure plan: From July 8 to Aug. 2, northbound lanes of Route 29 will be shut from just north of the entrance to Battlefield Baptist Church to just south of the Vint Hill Road intersection, a distance of about nine-tenths of a mile.

• Detour plan: During the closure, northbound traffic will detour using Route 17 from Warrenton to Interstate 66 at Marshall, then using I-66 east to Gainesville. The plan bars trucks with four or more axles from using four secondary roads near the construction area. The closure will not affect southbound traffic and drivers will be able to turn onto and from Route 215 during the closure. Access to private entrances, including the Battlefield Baptist Church, will be maintained during the closure. 
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
A state transportation official admitted Tuesday night that removing dangerous hills along a half-mile section of northbound Route 29 near New Baltimore will create big traffic problems.

“The main issue here is we know it’s not going to be easy,” Virginia Department of Transportation Engineer John Lynch told about 70 people who attended an information meeting on the “Cut the Hills” project at Battlefield Baptist Church near the construction area. “It’s going to be a mess.”

Through a coordinated effort with the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office, state police and GPS providers, “we’re going to try to get as many people as possible (to use) the regional detour that are coming from south of Warrenton,” Mr. Lynch said.

Northbound traffic will detour up Route 17 from Warrenton to Interstate 66 at Marshall, then use I-66 east to Gainesville. The closure will not affect southbound traffic, and drivers will be able to turn onto and from Route 215 during the closure. Access to private entrances, including the Battlefield Baptist Church, will remain open. 

To divert mostly pass-through truck traffic, the plan bars vehicles with three or more axels from portions of four secondary roads — Routes 245, 600, 602 and 628 — near the construction area, forcing them to take the Route 17 detour.

If the “regional” detour plan redirects “the majority” of truck traffic, “I think we’ll be in pretty good shape,” Mr. Lynch told the audience.

As part of its public notice blitz, VDOT has informed the big GPS providers — Garmin, Google and Waze — about the closure plan and urged them to “push traffic to use the regional detour of 17 and 66,” agency spokesman Lou Hatter said.

The project will require closing the northbound lanes of Route 29 from just north of the Battlefield Baptist Church entrance to just south of the Vint Hill Road intersection, a distance of about nine-tenths of a mile.

The improvements will improve visibility approaching the intersection — one of the most dangerous in the area, according to VDOT officials. From 2013 and 2017, 113 crashes occurred on that section of the highway. From 2013 to 2017, there have been 113 crashes in area’s northbound lanes, the state transportation agency reported.

Work to remove the humps will start July 8 and be completed Sept. 30. The portion of northbound Route 29 affected by the “Cut the Hills” project would remain fully closed from July 8 to Aug. 2.

“This is the fastest design-build project VDOT’s ever procured,” said Billy Myers, a veteran administrator with Chemung, the contractor.

Detours will redirect traffic along the highway, which carries 50,000 vehicles a day.

Audience members worried aloud that diverted traffic will overwhelm secondary roads — narrow, hilly and sometimes lacking shoulders — they live along near the construction area.

In various ways, congestion will make the roads unsafe, complicate commutes and make more dangerous access to their homes, Route 29 and the simple job of retrieving mail.

“I’ve been run off (Route 674) by people with horse trailers crossing the center line because the road is so narrow,” one speaker said. “And it’s pretty much that way all the way down to Blantyre” Road.

Another suggested that VDOT temporarily replace the stop signs at Routes 676 and 600 with a signal to more safely manage traffic through an already busy and hazardous intersection.

The sheriff’s office will deploy up to 10 deputies at any time to monitor and help manage traffic, Cpl. Steven Shiner told the audience.

Mary Beverley-Kotek, a retired Culpeper County Public Schools guidance counselor, lives on Beverleys Mill Road (Route 600).

Mailboxes along Beverleys Mill stand on one side of the road, Ms. Beverley-Kotek said.

That requires her and neighbors to cross the road to retrieve their mail each afternoon, she said.

At times, she must wait for 30 vehicles to pass to get her mail. Detour traffic will make that more dangerous, Ms. Beverley-Kotek said.

Other audience members asked VDOT to consider adjusting the timing of some traffic signals to help ease traffic flow during construction.

In answer to a question, Mr. Lynch explained that for budget and practical reasons, VDOT rejected a pair of alternatives to completely shutting the northbound lanes of Route 29.

Installing two temporary northbound lanes in the median would have doubled the project’s cost, he said.

Using the southbound roadway to allow one traffic lane in each direction would result in nearly daylong congestion, Mr. Lynch said. That configuration also would have made blasting unsafe, he added.

“It’s the best we can do to fix the safety problem on 29,” he said of the approved closure plan. “Get in there and get out as quickly as possible.”

Lisa Dowd, who lives off Dumfries Road (Route 605) and works in Northern Virginia, has no doubt the improvements must be made.

A Fairfax County government telecommunications analyst, Ms. Dowd typically takes Route 29 to I-66 to get to work.

“There’s going to be some pain for everybody,” she said in an interview. “But, we’ve got three (other) routes we could try.”

Ms. Dowd added: “I think they absolutely have to do it. We’re very happy they’re doing the project.”

The Commonwealth Transportation Board on April 10 awarded the $3.5 million “Cut the Hills” project to the Culpeper office of Chemung Contracting Corp. 

The project will require a significant amount of “blasting” to remove the two hills, Chemung Regional Project Manager David D. Bradeson suggested.

That will begin July 9 — the day after the road’s closure, Mr. Bradeson said.

It could take eight to 10 days of blasting to dislodge the rock, he explained.

Blasting probably will take place around 2 p.m. — when southbound Route 29 traffic at Vint Hill Road will cease for about eight minutes, Mr. Bradeson said.

Rain or shine, he expects workers to put in 14 to 16 hours per day.

But, “if we need to, I’ll work 24 hours a day, seven days a week” to complete the job on time, Mr. Bradeson said.

A citizens’ advisory panel, which has met almost monthly since last summer, endorsed the “Cut the Hills” and improvements to the Vint Hill Road (Route 215) and Route 600 intersections. The latter has Beverleys Mill Road on the west and Broad Run Church Road on the east.

The panel, which also includes Fauquier and Prince William county representatives and merchants, has focused on ways to enhance safety, traffic flow and access along an approximately three-mile stretch on Route 29 between Warrenton and New Baltimore.

For information about the project, click here.

To receive email notifications and updates about the project, email Lou Hatter, Culpeper District communications manager, at Lou.Hatter@VDOT.Virginia.gov

Contact Don Del Rosso at Don@FauquierNow.com or 540-270-0300.
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brandonj · June 13, 2019 at 8:31 am
Ah yes, retirees complaining about their inconvenience in checking their mail at their regularly scheduled time. Oh the humanity! We must stop the project!!!

How about this novel idea - check your mail at 8pm!

First world problems... It's going to suck - deal with it (I have to commute to Fairfax) and hope it gets done on schedule.
Cammie Rodgers · June 12, 2019 at 7:45 pm
Agree with Morris Wheat, TheWeez, and Ohoh. It is going to be a mess and we need to plan accordingly to get to work. The "hills" are alive with the sound of blasting. Glad I don't live near any of those areas!
Ohoh · June 12, 2019 at 1:43 pm
No where in this article did it mention Rt. 28 I believe that is going to be a mess
TheWeez · June 12, 2019 at 12:16 pm
I love how it's the "hills" that are dangerous and not the people staring at their phones instead of paying attention to their driving. Kind of like blaming heroin when people OD.
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