Trees cleared to bury power lines ahead of Longhill Road widening project

Staff writer

Trees are coming down on Longhill Road.

The tree removal comes as part of a road widening project from Williamsburg West Drive to the intersection of Olde Towne and Devon roads.

“Currently, the utilities on the Longhill Road Widening Project are being relocated in order to start construction this summer,” said Brittany McBride Nichols, a Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman, in an email. “This clearing is required regardless of whether the utilities are located underground or above ground.”

Longhill Road will be widened from two lanes to four lanes from just east of Williamsburg West Drive to about 1,000 feet west of the intersection at Olde Towne and Devon roads, according to VDOT’s website. The project is estimated to cost $19.8 million. The road widening construction is expected to begin this summer and end summer 2021.

In addition to widening the road, the project includes the construction of a roundabout, crosswalks and a 10-foot-wide shared-use path. The outside lane on each side of the road will be widened to make room for bicyclists.

The Board of Supervisors approved the project in February 2017. It also OK’d $2.4 million in local funds to bury utilities the following month. The road project itself is funded mostly through SmartScale, a state funding program for transportation projects, as well as federal money. The state program can’t be used to bury power lines.

Based on current cost estimates, the project to bury the utilities is expected to cost $800,000, though the estimate is subject to change, Nichols said.

The work to relocate utilities began in September. The area from Route 199 to Olde Towne Square is slated for completion by May 2019. The rest of the relocations are scheduled to be wrapped up by March 2020, Nichols said.

The project has attracted some public criticism, with residents voicing concerns about how a roundabout will impact traffic, whether more lanes will translate into more freedom of movement and a proposed bio-retention basin.

In December 2016, VDOT held a public hearing on the project at Lafayette High School. Sixty-two people turned out and 29 provided comments. VDOT also got six mailed comments and 16 email comments. Twenty-seven responders supported the project and eight opposed it, according to VDOT.

The Windsor Forest Homeowners Association submitted a petition with property owners’ 122 signatures to request VDOT reconsider the proposed bio-retention basin. VDOT and the association met several times early last year on that aspect of the project.

“I don’t think anyone is ever excited when the state comes to purchase your land, but our residents have been through things like this before. We had great input at our town hall meetings and a really productive and cooperative discussion with VDOT,” Drew Larsen, president of the association, wrote in an email.

VDOT made changes to the shape of the basin and the landscaping in and around it, Nichols said.

Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, jojacobs@vagazette.com, @jajacobs_

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