If your daily commute relies on the northbound U.S. 29 just south of the Prince William County line, get ready to make some alternate travel plans.
Work began Monday, June 3, on a $4.6 million project to level two hills along a 0.9 mile stretch of northbound U.S. 29 from Riley Road, or Va. 676, to just south of the intersection at Vint Hill Road.
Starting Monday, July 8, the northbound lanes along that section of the roadway will be closed to all traffic until Saturday, Aug. 3.
The project is the result of years of concern about the hills along the northbound lanes of U.S. 29 that obstruct drivers’ view of traffic stopped at the light at Vint Hill Road. The approach to that intersection is the No. 1 safety issue in Virginia Department of Transportation’s nine-county Culpeper District. There were 113 crashes on that section of U.S. 29 between 2013 and 2017, according to state records.
The project will regrade the northbound lanes to remove the hills and improve the stopping-sight distance on the approach to the intersection.
VDOT has been trying to get the word out about the project for the past few months. Flashing signs have been posted along U.S. 29 and a few other roads to alert motorists in Fauquier and surrounding counties about the impending shutdown of the northbound lanes.
VDOT officials also held a “pardon our dust” meeting on Tuesday, June 11, to further spread the word and address residents’ questions. The meeting drew a crowd of about 70 people to Battlefield Baptist Church.
John Lynch, chief VDOT engineer on the project, readily acknowledged the project would be a challenge for area residents and motorists, saying: “We know it’s going to be a mess.”
“We know during the first few days that folks will be working their way through … trying to find the best route” around the closed road, Lynch said.
During the closure, traffic will be redirected to alternate routes, many of which are secondary roads, such Beverley Mills Road, which connects Va. 55 to U.S. 29
Northbound traffic will be redirected to U.S. 17 north from Warrenton to Interstate 66 at Marshall. Vehicles traveling to Gainesville will stay on Interstate 66 east until exits at U.S. 15 or U.S. 29, both of which are north of the road closure.
Motorists will be able to turn onto and from Vint Hill Road during the three-week closure. Access to private entrances, including the Battlefield Baptist Church, will also be maintained, VDOT officials said.
Commuter traffic and trucks will be encouraged to use U.S. 17 to access I-66.
GPS providers such as Google and Waze have been notified about the planned closure. Pass-through truck traffic will be barred from portions of secondary roads like Va. 245, 600, 602 and 628 near the construction area. They will be forced to take the U.S. 17 detour.
If the regional plan to divert truck traffic to the U.S. 17 detour, “we’ll be in pretty good shape,” Lynch said.
Still, some area residents who attended the meeting had their doubts. “It’s going to be a nightmare,” said Vee Kreitz, who owns a horse farm and lives on Beverley Mills Road.
Jason Vanderford Evans also lives on Beverley Mills Road and is a neighbor of Kreitz’s. Both said they are concerned about the impact of a “parade of cars” on secondary roads,
Several residents of Broad Run Church Road said they shared that sentiment, noting the roads are narrow. “There is no area to get off … except someone’s driveway,” said one.
VDOT considered several alternatives to closing the northbound lanes, including building additional capacity for both north and southbound traffic, Lynch said.
But “it would have doubled the cost to build two more lanes,” Lynch said, adding: “We’d have congestion all day if we left one lane open each way.”
“This is the best we can do to fix the safety problem,” he said.
Blasting the hills
Chemung Contracting Corp., of Mitchells, Virginia, was awarded the $3.5 million design-build contract to do most of the work. Chemung is partnering with Volkert Inc., of Mobile, Alabama, which will provide design services for the project.
Blasting will be involved to break through the rock to level the hills, said Billy Myers, Chemung’s contract administrator.
Some attendees asked if the blast “will feel like an earthquake.”
“More like seismic shock or waves,” Myers said.
Myers said southbound traffic will be stopped at Vint Hill Road during the blasting. Such closures are expected to last about eight minutes.
“We’ll be blasting once a day,” said Myers. “We have several quarries and very large equipment to handle this … it will be a sight unlike you’ve seen before, when five rigs are lined up side by side at one time to drill.”
Chemung Regional Project Manager David Bradeson explained it will probably take several days of blasting to clear the rock. With a tight timeframe, Bradeson said they are incentivized to get it done.
“When we accepted the contract, it said you have X number of days to get the job done … we’re planning to work 14 to 16 hours a day but, if necessary, we’ll work 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Bradeson said.
“What about the weather?” one man asked.
Rain or shine, workers are anticipated to put in long days however, “If it’s pouring down rain, we can’t work,” Bradeson said.
A citizen’s advisory committee comprised of residents of both Prince William and Fauquier counties has met monthly since last summer to discuss the project.
“It’s not perfect,” said Tim Hoffman, a member of the committee. “But, it’s the most effective plan to address the problem at that intersection, and it needs to be done.”
Extra sheriff’s deputies will be on duty in the corridor during construction to assist disabled vehicles or respond to accidents, said Cpl. Steve Shiner, a deputy with the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office.
Shiner said they will take advantage of VDOT’s “instant tow program.”
“Normally a deputy would be called to a scene and then assess if a tow truck was necessary,” he said. “But now, as soon as a deputy is called, a tow truck will be dispatched at the same time … saving 30 to 50 minutes.”
Information about the project is available on VDOT’s website on the Route 29 Corridor, Fauquier County page. Emailed notifications and updates about the project are available. Email Lou Hatter, Culpeper District communications manager, at Lou.Hatter@VDOT.Virginia.gov to receive them.
Reach Anita Sherman at email@example.com