No. 6: Debate over closing part of Millwood Avenue continues

Posted: December 28, 2012

The Winchester Star

During 2012, members of the City Council approved the potential closure of the section of Millwood Avenue between Jubal Early and Apple Blossom drives that cuts through the southern edge of Shenandoah University’s campus. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — For the third straight year, an approximately 1,000-foot-long stretch of Millwood Avenue sparked controversy in the community — and it might continue to roil opponents in 2013.

City Council did make its decision in 2012. By a 7-2 vote, the councilors approved the potential closure of the section of Millwood between Jubal Early and Apple Blossom drives that cuts through the southern edge of Shenandoah University’s campus.

But Virginia Department of Transportation engineers still must review the plan to see if it will have a negative effect on the state’s road network, with the Commonwealth Transportation Board making the final determination. That decision is expected in early 2013.

At issue is whether the overall project presents an opportunity to simplify and beautify one of the city’s major entrances or whether the project would snarl traffic.

If the project moves forward, the Millwood right of way would be given to SU.

In exchange, the university would give the city land for a new free-flowing right-hand turn lane to mitigate the Millwood closure. It also would make about $2 million in street and other improvements, including installing a traffic signal at a newly relocated University Drive-Millwood Avenue intersection.

From its beginnings as a traffic study in May 2010 (when The Winchester Star did not do a top 10 stories list for the year), through the completion of the study and work by SU on the project in 2011 (when it was selected as the year’s fourth-biggest story in the area), critics have lambasted the Millwood proposal.

Because of the controversy, City Council opted to hold two public hearings on the issue. Twenty-five of the 26 people who spoke opposed the plan, with the 26th saying he saw both sides of the issue.

Councilors also were presented two petitions with a total of 2,250 signatures against the proposal.

Critics slammed the two traffic studies — including one paid for by the university — on which the plan was built, saying they were flawed and incomplete.

Some called for a formal traffic impact analysis to be performed. However, city staff members said the work done amounted to a traffic impact study.

Following their vote, councilors who voted to approve the potential closure said they think the traffic studies are sufficient and accurate and that it would benefit the city.

If the project moves forward, it might spawn other projects. Shenandoah has said it plans to landscape its southern perimeter to create a gateway entrance to the university and the city, and there might be room to build a concert hall in front of the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre.

 

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com