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2018-01-03 / Featured / Real Estate

I-95/Willis Road bypassed in road funding request

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER


The county is requesting $125 million from the state to address congestion issues in the corridor around state Route 288 and Hull Street Road. 
JAMES HASKINS The county is requesting $125 million from the state to address congestion issues in the corridor around state Route 288 and Hull Street Road. JAMES HASKINS The Board of Supervisors recently approved a list of 10 transportation projects that will be submitted for state funding in fiscal year 2019. Reconstruction of the Interstate 95/Willis Road interchange was not one of them.

County leaders have said that project is critical to a Chinese company’s plan to build a $2 billion paper plant on more than 800 acres off Jefferson Davis Highway in northeastern Chesterfield.

The county sought $43 million for the interchange reconstruction in fiscal year 2018, but it was not approved under the new Smart Scale scoring system the state uses to allocate transportation funding.

Now there are serious questions about whether Tranlin Inc. will ever break ground on its much-ballyhooed paper mill.

The company announced in August that it planned to repay a $5 million state economic development grant because of a series of delays to its project timetable. But in October, Tranlin officials informed the Virginia Economic Development Partnership it would not be able to make the payment by its agreed-upon deadline.

Instead, Tranlin reimbursed the state $150,000 and promised to pay the remainder of the $5 million over the next six months. The company also agreed to give VEDP a first-position lien on 58 acres of land at the James River Industrial Park near Willis Road until the grant is repaid.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Tranlin’s future, Garrett Hart, the county’s economic development director, still “strongly supports” upgrades to the Willis Road interchange.

“It is key to the development of the remaining industrial property and service to the existing employers in the area, as well as a key to the revitalization of [the northern U.S. Route 1 corridor],” Hart said.

The county’s Northern Jefferson Davis Special Area Plan calls for the creation of a “new downtown” area at the intersection of Route 1 and Willis Road to become “the center of community activity and vibrancy.”

County staff, civic organizations and citizens have spent the past two years working on the special area plan, which will serve as a guide for land development, revitalization, ordinances and policies along an 8.5-mile stretch of Route 1.

According to Hart, reconstruction of the I-95/Willis Road interchange is an important part of that plan.

“We have seen with the case of Stonebridge, at the location of the former Cloverleaf Mall, that it takes a big commitment from someone to get things started,” he added. “The construction of the new interchange, the land purchased for it and the new traffic pattern created by it could serve to start interest in investing in the area, by creating land parcels for sale and motivating the land owners in the area to put their land on the market for a higher and better use.”

Jesse Smith, the county’s transportation director, told the Board of Supervisors earlier this year that his staff will continue to seek Virginia Department of Transportation funding for the Willis Road project.

County leaders have known for many years that the interchange, which was built in the 1950s, “has functional issues based on the volume of [industrial] traffic in that area,” Smith said. “It’s a vital part of the county’s transportation network whether Tranlin comes or not,” he added.

The I-95/Willis Road interchange was No. 4 on the county’s list of transportation priorities last year. This year, it fell to No. 11. Due to changes to the Smart Scale application process made by the Commonwealth Transportation Board, that means it won’t be presented for funding in fiscal year 2019.

In 2017, Chesterfield submitted applications for 33 projects and obtained funding for eight, totaling nearly $70 million, which represents more than half of the money allocated to VDOT’s Richmond District.

Neighboring localities complained that Chesterfield was “gaming the system,” county officials say, and the CTB responded by capping at eight the number of projects a locality can submit for Smart Scale funding in a two-year period.

After lobbying by Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dorothy Jaeckle, County Administrator Joe Casey, Smith and Mary Ann Curtin, the county’s state government liaison, the CTB increased the biannual application limit to 10.

“That was a win,” said Clover Hill Supervisor Chris Winslow. “It’s not a huge difference between 8 and 10, but in terms of projects for Chesterfield, it’s a huge win for us.”

The top three projects on the county’s Smart Scale list for fiscal year 2019 are all designed to address significant congestion issues in the Route 288/360 interchange. The total funding request is $125 million.

The county will seek $31 million for the second phase of upgrades to the interchange at I-95 and Route 10 in Chester.

Chesterfield’s list of transportation priorities also includes a $3 million request for construction of a sidewalk along Jefferson Davis Highway between Falling Creek and Chippenham Parkway.

Jim Holland, supervisor for the Dale District, said the sidewalk will help citizens without access to cars.

“We’re talking about pedestrians and their movement safely along Route 1,” he added. “I think that’s a big issue we need to focus on.” ¦

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