As roadwork at the intersection of Ironbound and Longhill roads in front of James Blair Middle School begins to wind down, City Engineer Aaron Small said motorists can expect the bulk of the first phase of the project to be finished within the next three weeks.
So what will change at the intersection by the end of the month?
Small said the new right turn lane onto Longhill Road will be paved and opened to traffic, and traffic signals at the intersection will be made fully operational, replacing the temporary flashing lights that are in place now. The curbs and sidewalks along the two roads will all be installed and ready for public use, he said.
In March, roadwork crews are expected to return to the intersection to put finishing touches on the first phase of the project. That work will include installing permanent poles and mast arms to hold the new traffic signals, along with a final layer of asphalt and paint striping on Ironbound Road.
“The base asphalt will go down next week,” Small said. “We’ll have something that cars can drive on next week, however, it won’t be the final surface. Cars are actually running on base asphalt out there right now, you just don’t notice.”
$3.5 million was budgeted for the first phase of the road project in the city’s Capital Improvement Program.
Construction work at the intersection began last May, Small said. He said the impending opening of the middle school paired with the recent opening of the Aldi grocery store necessitated the work, but that plans to improve the intersection had been in place for years.
“The planning had been in the works for the last 10 years,” he said. “When Aldi came in and added their parcel, we needed a full left turn lane. Now we’ve got three lanes across that can support the traffic volume that’s coming in from Richmond road at the signal.”
When the work began in May, Small said the project was originally expected to be completed by Nov. 30. Delays pushed the project into the new year. He said one big delay was partially caused by an underground gas regulator station owned by Virginia Natural Gas that needed to be moved before work could proceed.
“It’s one of those things that most people don’t realize, but that’s part of the main gas line that feeds from the higher pressure main that goes from Richmond Road,” Small said. “It’s underground, and that station had to be moved because it was going to be under the right turn lane.”
The remaining two phases of the project won’t come until fiscal year 2022, Small said. That’s because the remaining roadwork will be paid for using $5.23 million in VDOT Smart Scale funding, which won’t be made available to the city until then.
The second phase of the project will add dual left turn lanes onto Richmond Road and coordinate the traffic signals at Richmond Road and Longhill Road. The third and final phase will add underground wiring, streetlights, an asphalt bike trail and a 5-foot wide concrete sidewalk from Longhill Road to Treyburn Drive.
“We do appreciate the public’s patience, particularly those folks who use that intersection routinely,” Small said when updating City Council on the road project at a meeting earlier this week.
Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.