Our View: ‘Phases’ and exits
Posted: March 5, 2013
Though traffic projections and full engineering of the highway’s footprint remain twinkles in their eye, as does state funding of the road, Frederick County officials do know the long-awaited Va. 37 eastern bypass will — notice we don’t use the speculative “should” — be built in three “phases” and will have seven exits (including a new I-81 interchange near mile post 318.
The three “phases,” in order of proposed buildout, are: U.S. 522 South to I-81’s Exit 310, Va. 7 to the anticipated Exit 318, and Va. 7 to U.S. 522 South.
The six exits, in addition to the northern interstate connection, will be at Snowden Bridge Boulevard, Va. 7, Senseny Road, U.S. 50, U.S. 522 South, and Warrior Drive.
Why build the southern portion of the bypass first? For starters, said deputy county planning director for transportation John Bishop, because of “incredible (traffic) pressure upstream” on I-81 at Exit 313.
For another thing, Mr. Bishop said, it makes sense from a planning perspective. With “things coming together nicely” in terms of development (e.g., Crosspointe, Artrip projects) in that part of the county, starting the bypass construction on that segment renders the county’s visionary Comprehensive Plan “more realistic.” The county will be poised to “move” that part of the road project, Mr. Bishop added, in two to three years. Funding, though, will not be similarly forthcoming, he suspects.
Like logic prevails in planning for the other “phases,” Mr. Bishop said — particularly to the north where traffic at Stephenson (Exit 317) can be “a nightmare at peak times.” That northernmost segment is of particular interest to us, given our consternation as to how Va. 37 West and the eastern bypass will link before the latter loops around the western edge of Stonewall Industrial Park en route to the I-81 interchange.
That linkage, Mr. Bishop states, “is the most interesting piece of what VDOT has drawn” on its draft version of a new, and much-needed, study of the road. “We may have our own little ‘mixing bowl’ in terms of ramping there.”
The middle — and most lengthy — “phase” of the 151⁄2-mile road may, in time, be broken into smaller components, a possible scenario that speaks to the vagaries of funding. Whatever transpires on that front, Mr. Bishop said, county residents should expect “significant time” to elapse between “phases.”
But when the money does come, he says, the county will be obliged to “make hay.” Ideally, the intent would be to build all four lanes of each “phase” at the same time. But the key, as always, is funding.
“You never know when you’re going to get that dollar again,” he said. “So we’ll have to make hay while the sun shines.” The dollars the county receives will be earmarked specifically for that project.
Thus, should initial funding allow but the construction of two lanes in the first “phase,” the county will do what it can — with a keen eye on assuring that whatever is built dovetails nicely with what comes next.
“There’s no throwaway money here,” Mr. Bishop said.