Council to view SU plan for road

Posted: October 12, 2013

The Winchester Star

This view facing west shows the Millwood Avenue-Jubal Early Drive intersection (bottom left), Pleasant Valley Road (top right) and Apple Blossom Drive (center). Shenandoah University is on the right. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University’s vision for one of the city’s major eastern entrances will be unveiled next week.

University officials will attend the City Council’s work session at 6 p.m. on Tuesday to discuss their timeline for the Millwood Avenue Public Improvement Project and present their plan for that gateway to Winchester and the SU campus.

The presentation will include a two-minute video simulation, or “flyby,” of the corridor’s appearance after the changes.

Mitch Moore, SU’s vice president for advancement and planning, said he thinks the depiction of features to be added along the southern perimeter of the campus is about as accurate as possible. The final material and plant choices have not been made, but the design concept is shown in detail.

“I think the flyby not only gives council a good indication what this looks like,” he said, “but it also gives us the opportunity to show the public what it will look like. I think it gives pretty decent rendering of the landscape features we want to include. We want the eastern gateway to be the premiere entrance to the city.”

The video simulation will be made available to the public once it has been presented to the council, Moore said.

The presentation represents the first substantive public action in six months on a project that surfaced in May 2010.

The prospect of closing an approximately 1,000-foot stretch of Millwood Avenue in front of SU to facilitate the proposed roadway and landscaping changes angered some local residents, and many campaigned against the project.

The closed Millwood right of way will become university property. In exchange, the college will provide the city with right of way for a continuous right-turn lane onto Apple Blossom Drive to mitigate Millwood’s closure and pay for the transportation network changes required to facilitate traffic flow through the area.

The street changes alone are estimated to cost about $2 million. Mayor Elizabeth Minor said no landscaping estimates have been calculated.

The council approved the concept in September 2012 on a series of 7-2 votes, with Minor and Councilor Evan Clark the only opponents on the panel.

That, however, was not the final hurdle for the project. The Commonwealth Transportation Board still had to endorse access modifications required for the project to proceed, and it did so on a 12-0 vote in April.

The simulation starts with an aerial view of Winchester and SU’s campus from its eastern side.

The video swoops into the city on Millwood at street level, moves along the planned new right-turn lane onto Apple Blossom Drive, and passes the relocated University Drive entrance to the campus before zooming out to an overhead view of the corridor.

The first change shown — at the eastern corner of the campus along Millwood — is a sign denoting that the person has arrived in Winchester. The video’s image includes the city logo, but Moore said city officials can determine the sign’s content.

An SU logo is depicted atop a column at the corner of what is now Jubal Early Drive and Apple Blossom Drive. The short section of Jubal Early to Apple Blossom is expected to be renamed “Millwood Avenue” following the closure.

The entrance to the campus features arched gateways on either side of University Drive. The Green Circle Trail will be extended through this area.

A small wall — Moore said it would be no taller than 36 inches — is shown alongside much of the street. However, breaks in the wall will allow people to easily enter or leave the campus.

Finally, a map appears to show the location of certain features proposed for the project.

Flower gardens are shown at two corners — the new Millwood-Apple Blossom intersection and, though it is not part of the official project area, at the Millwood-Pleasant Valley Road junction in front of Halpin-Harrison Hall.

Moore said the extension of the landscaping work is a response to criticism that Shenandoah had not made efforts to beautify the area prior to its desire to obtain the Millwood property.

The view of Abrams Creek will be opened up, the video shows, and a stormwater retention pond will become a water feature surrounded by trees and plants.

“The idea was for it to be symbolic of Winchester and the Shenandoah Valley,” Moore said.

The simulation focuses on the new landscaping elements, not the street changes. Traffic lights are not included, and vehicles are depicted only outside the project area.

Assuming the City Council endorses the plan next month, Moore said SU’s goal would be to begin street construction in mid-May.

That work, expected to last 150 days, includes building the continuous right-turn lane onto Apple Blossom Drive and installing a traffic signal at the relocated Millwood Avenue-University Drive intersection.

Landscaping — the second phase of the project — would begin in November 2014 and be completed in the following spring.

“We’re looking to move this project along as quickly as we can,” Moore said, “because I think everybody wants to see it done.”

SU leaders will work with city and Virginia Department of Transportation officials, he said, to make sure the trees selected will not create maintenance problems.

The entire project will be paid for with reserve funds and private donations, Moore said.

The university has received a major contribution toward the landscaping from a donor he would not identify.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com