Marshall Main St. Project design changes warranted
The project would widen Marshall sidewalks along more than a block of Main Street, narrowing each vehicle lane by a foot.
By Matt Davenport Delaplane
The Marshall Main Street Improvement Project has become a contentious and divisive subject. What started out nearly two decades ago as a genuine grassroots effort to improve the look of Main Street in Marshall has been turned over to county administration, where it has become very top-down and heavy. The project’s estimates have ballooned in cost, the bids are coming in over budget, and the scope of the project has been reduced to only one block of Main Street and benefits only the property owners in that exclusive section.
The bulk of the project is to be funded by a federal grant and donors. Then the rest is to be paid for by a 400-percent tax increase to those in Marshall’s Lighting Tax District. Those in favor are arguing that if we don’t do the project, we will lose the grant and donor money. Those opposed see this is as an unnecessary boondoggle that smells fishy, that will narrow the street by 2 feet in an already congested area and create risks to pedestrians and people trying to park and exit vehicles in that section. Most people like the idea of improving Main Street but are opposed to narrowing it.
Other and better options do exist. Let’s just say that, for argument’s sake, we are to accept the premise that the scope of the project should only be in this one-block section. One of the wishes of the community was that there would be trees going down Main Street. Currently, there are a few trees here and there, just out of the Virginia Department of Transportation right-of-way on private property just off the sidewalk. The current design of this project calls for new trees to be installed between the sidewalk and the curb. The tree pits are to be 4 feet by 8 feet, and this is important, because this measurement controls the final street width. Currently, the street width is at 40 feet. The current design takes 2 feet off of the current street width from curb to curb.
The project has to meet specific design criteria by VDOT and federal law, the Americans with Disabilities Act. The requirements are related to sidewalk width, ramps, setbacks and so forth. The key requirement in our case, in regards to final street width, is that at least a 4 feet sidewalk is created behind where the trees are located. The sidewalk can then expand to a wider section past the tree. The county administration has falsely presented that there is no way to have trees and also keep the street width at its current 40 feet.
It is important to realize that the width of the VDOT right-of-way varies as one goes up and down Main Street, and some buildings are closer to the street than others. Certain trees could be eliminated, the tree pits could be made a little narrower in certain cases, and/or cast iron tree grates can be installed around the trees which are ADA-compliant and allowed to be used as part of the pedestrian pathway. The 4-foot tree pit width is not set in stone and was simply put forth by the design firm with whom the county contracted.
Strasburg has a similar ongoing street improvement project, covering several blocks, coming in cheaper, with a better design, and with supported by the community. They have kept the street at 40 feet, have trees with ADA-compliant tree grates installed, and have used curb bump outs with decorative plantings at intersections as a traffic calming measure.
The Marshall plan has pitifully little in the way of serious traffic calming other than simply narrowing the street. Cars may indeed slow down because of a narrow street, but that is because drivers do not want to hit people entering or exiting vehicles. It is better to use inanimate objects, rather than people as the traffic calming device. Traffic through Marshall is a mixed bag of cars, heavy trucks, buses, trailers, tractors and farm machinery, and there is just barely enough room as there is now.
The supporters of the current design point to Upperville as a model of how the plan for Marshall might work, but hardly anybody parks on the street in Upperville because there are hardly any businesses there, and when one does try to park there, it feels you are going to be clipped unless you are very careful. Unlike Marshall’s design, the Upperville design has also used an entire arsenal of traffic calming measures.
It is unfortunate that so much time and energy has been put into this to come up with a design which is poor and unpopular, especially in light of the original high hopes and good feelings with which this project was started. I seriously hope the county will revisit the design or cancel the project entirely.