Despite acknowledging closing the 7th Street railroad crossing near North Commerce Avenue will inconvenience residents, Waynesboro city staff recommended on Wednesday city council approve the closure in order to move forward on the Southern Corridor SMART scale project.
In order to secure a permit for an at-grade crossing for the Southern Corridor project, Norfolk Southern Railroad company requires eliminating three existing at-grade crossings. As part of the railroad’s 3-to-1 exchange, a crossing also will be closed in the Front Royal area, as well as a private crossing at the Lycra Company off South Delphine Avenue.
The 7th street crossing near Commerce Avenue and the Basic City area handles about 1,150 cars in a 24-hour period. Because of that, a group of three citizen-appointed viewers submitted a report that said the closure would be a “significant inconvenience” to the public. The viewers report also stated “it would be a hardship on citizens living in this area,” and citizens might be forced to take longer trips to immediate local destinations.
“I acknowledge there will be resulting inconvenience if the application is approved, but my remarks here are to affirm that I acknowledge those inconveniences and feel like the opportunity and benefits associated with the Southern Roadway Connector project are worthy of consideration and balance against the inconveniences that will occur for those impacted residents in the neighborhood,” City Manager Mike Hamp said Wednesday.
Waynesboro’s Director of Planning Luke Juday said Wednesday he expects most traffic to be diverted to East Main Street, which already sees about 12,000 average daily trips. A smaller amount of traffic is expected to be diverted to the Jack Higgs Bridge, a one-lane bridge on 4th street, and Bridge Avenue crossing on 2nd street. Those two areas see 530 and 3,400 average daily trips, respectively.
Windsor Avenue is the only other at-grade crossing in the city and sees about 4,200 daily trips, more than double the daily traffic at the 7th Street crossing.
“We’re not in favor of (closing the 7th Street crossing) on its own. It’s not something that we would look at and say, ‘We would have done that anyway’ or anything like that. But, the railroad has been wanting to close that crossing. It’s one of their higher liability crossing in this area. And it’s the necessary step for completion of the Southern Connector Road,” Juday said.
In 2014, the city was awarded a SMART Scale project for the Southern Connector Road worth $17 million. The road, to be constructed by VDOT, would create an alternative east to west route in the city and divert traffic that would typically have to use Interstate 64 and exit 94. In order for the road to be completed as awarded, a new at-grade crossing must be constructed over the Norfolk Southern rail line.
Waynesboro’s Director of Economic Development, Greg Hitchin, said the two main goals of the SMART Scale application were to reduce congestion and improve future development. That future development includes providing access to the city’s Nature’s Crossing Industrial Park, which is currently under development, and the Commerce Industrial Park on the west end.
The Southern Connector Road is tentatively scheduled to be completed in 2023. Hitchin estimates the project could bring between $1 and $2 million annually to the city’s budget and provide between 500 and 700 jobs “depending on different industries now and then.”
Two residents spoke during the public hearing — one who said the city didn’t do enough to publicize the potential closure and one who said money from the project should be given back to the Basic City area.
“This closing is going to have an impact. I think it’s more than an inconvenience for those living in Basic,” Tanya Kidd, who owns property at 7th and Commerce, said. “Waynesboro is very underutilized for its potential and Basic itself has so much potential that’s not being tapped into. At some point, if you keep trading off, you’re going to lose the potential that is in Basic. If there’s so much of a financial benefit to this trade off, then what should Commerce and Basic be getting out of this? If there’s $1 million coming to the city for this trade off, then that money should seriously be considered for Commerce. If you want to take it from Commerce, give it back.”
Waynesboro City Council will vote on the potential closure at its Oct. 26 meeting in city council chambers at 7 p.m.
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