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County adopts plan for improvements to Pocahontas Trail in Grove

jojacobs@vagazette.com

On a stretch of Pocahontas Trail west of James River Elementary School, most of the road is two lanes, sidewalk space is limited and bicyclists are left to impinge on one or the other.

The county has a plan to change that.

After almost a year of public forums and study, James City now has formally adopted a game plan to guide improvements on a 2-mile segment of Pocahontas Trail between Fire Station Two and James River Elementary School in Grove.

The county intends to build a three-lane road, a continuous sidewalk and continuous shared-use path along with other improvements, including underground utilities. The project is expected to cost about $34 million.

“It will really improve the character of the area and make it safer, more appealing and address traffic congestion,” James City Supervisor John McGlennon said. He spoke just before the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the Pocahontas Trail Corridor Study Tuesday. The Planning Commission likewise OK’d the study in early June.

McGlennon represents the Roberts District, which includes the Grove area.

Of several alternatives, the recommended improvement concept is a $28 million three-lane road with a single continuous center turn lane and a travel lane in each direction. The configuration also includes an eight-foot-wide shared-use path for pedestrians and bicyclists and a five-foot-wide sidewalk for foot traffic.

The new road configuration is expected to be able to accommodate up to 20,000 vehicles a day. Currently the study area has an average daily traffic count of 10,000 vehicles, according to VDOT.

Other included improvements include an enhanced drainage system, landscaping, lighting for motor and pedestrian traffic and crosswalks as well as bus pull-offs and shelters.

The power lines looming over Pocahontas Trial will find a new home underground. An additional $6 million is earmarked to bury utilities underground, which brings the project’s total price tag to $34 million, according to the study.

Residents wanted underground utilities for aesthetic reasons. Underground utilities will also provide more reliable service, as power lines won’t be at the mercy of falling trees or car crashes, James City Principal Planner Tammy Rosario said Thursday.

The planned improvements would completely overhaul the section of Pocahontas Trail. The section lacks designated paths for bicyclists and sidewalk space is limited. The current roadway typically consists of a two-lane configuration, with one lane going in either direction. There’s a lack of shoulder space on the road and some intersections don’t have turn lanes.

Vehicle crashes easily delay the flow of traffic due to the road’s current configuration. Emergency vehicles have difficulty getting to a crash scene. Between July 2012 and June 2017, there were 44 vehicle crashes in the area, 30 of which resulted in injuries, according to the study.

The area’s proximity to I-64 makes it a popular alternative when an accident stops traffic on the interstate, leading to congestion on Pocahontas Trail.

The study also considered a different three-lane concept and a five-lane concept with estimated price points of $31 million and $41 million, not counting the cost of putting utilities underground, respectively. The alternative three-lane concept could have also provided for up to 20,000 vehicles daily, while the five-lane concept could have provided capacity for up to 40,000 vehicles every day.

The project team recommends a phased construction process, which would complete the improvement project in five stages.

First would come small-scale improvements like transit shelters and bus pull-off areas. The first road construction project would take place at a roughly half-mile stretch of roadway between Jackson Street and Ron Springs Drive, which would cost $9.3 million, a figure that includes underground utilities.

Public feedback gathered at the last community meeting in April at Mount Gilead Church suggested that area is the highest priority for improvement among Grove residents, said Jeff Kuttesch, of RK&K, at a joint meeting between the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission in May.

Following that would come the Ron Springs Drive to Plantation Road segment ($10.2 million) and the Howard Drive to Jackson Street segment ($9.2 million). Last would be the segment between the project’s west limit at the fire station to Howard Drive ($5.9 million), according to the study’s executive summary.

The Virginia Department of Transportation would embark on right of way acquisition to carve out space for the project. How much land and how many property owners would be affected won’t be determined until after the project receives state funding, Rosario said.

The study, which the county conducted alongside VDOT and consultant firm RK&K, kicked off in August. A steering committee made up of Grove citizens and businesses assisted the project team. Feedback gathered at a series of community forums also informed the project.

“It really has engaged the community. People recognize that this improvement in the road and its accessory utilities will be transformational,” McGlennon said.

Members of the steering committee lauded the project’s potential to improve Grove at the supervisors’ meeting.

“We will be quite a beautiful community,” said committee member and Grove resident Rob Till at the meeting.

But it will take a few years for the vision to be realized.

While the county could pursue funding for the project as a whole, the study suggests the county pursue funding for individual pieces or several pieces of the project at a time. With the study’s approval, county staff is now in a position to complete funding applications for the 2018 Smart Scale cycle. Smart Scale is a state funding program for transportation projects.

The county’s application will request $2 million to $23.5 million in fiscal year 2024 to fund the project.

That wide range request is intended to provide the project flexibility — the county could be able to get the full funding but failing that it could opt for a lesser amount to start chipping away at the project sooner, Rosario said.

The county also will draw on $6 million in local funds and $4.5 million in federal money to pay for the project.

Smart Scale applications are due Aug. 1. The county expects to learn whether it receives any funding through Smart Scale in June 2019, Rosario said.

Jacobs can be reached by phone at 757-298-6007.

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