By Randy Arrington
LURAY — Many local projects tied to state and federal funding often get drawn out through the paperwork and bureaucracy tied to those funds. The recent closures, social distancing and Stay At Home Order resulting from the spread of COVID-19 could add to those normal delays.
Last week, Luray assistant town manager Bryan Chrisman had a 90-minute virtual meeting with VDOT officials to discuss ongoing and upcoming road projects and improvements around the town.
Chrisman says the Town of Luray currently has four main projects — two that are ending, and two that have yet to begin.
In the next two months, Chrisman plans to finalize paperwork on projects related to the $4.6 million replacement of the West Main Street Bridge and $460,000 in improvements at the Memorial Drive intersection near Page Memorial Hospital.
“We just need to bring everything together,” Chrisman said of the completed projects. “We had state and federal funds involved, so we need to close out that process. There’s the final reconciliation for payments and permits, as well as certification statements for contracting engineers.”
All of that paperwork should be completed and filed by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
The $2.6 million project for the West Main Street intersection improvements at the Singing Tower near Luray Caverns is already about nine months behind schedule.
“We are seeing some delays because [VDOT] has a lot of people working from home,” Chrisman said.
The town is content to wait, since the state will fund all of the cost except one half of 1 percent, which Luray must match (about $13,000). The same situation occurred during the planning of the replacement of the West Main Street Bridge. Ultimately, waiting on State of Good Repair (SGR) funds from the state proved worth it, as Luray received $3 million toward the bridge replacement.
VDOT will review plans to create a roundabout at the Singing Tower by May and a Request For Proposals should be advertised in July. Chrisman says that construction would begin no earlier than October.
“VDOT has a plan taking 14 to 16 months total, but that’s a fairly aggressive plan,” Chrisman said. “You could probably add a couple of months to that.”
One thing adding to potential delays are changes and improvements that Chrisman is proposing to those plans. He cites a “short list of seven things” that he has addressed with VDOT, including better lighting.
“That’s going to be a unique feature, definitely a traffic change for our citizens, and I want it to be well lit,” Chrisman said. “We have to live with it, so I want it to be right.”
The project across from Luray Caverns is actually broken into three parts, according to Chrisman. The first portion being the planning and construction of the roundabout at the Singing Tower.
“The big issue there is managing the traffic,” he added. “People coming from the caverns, from the high school… and everything else coming from Leakesville Road and West Main.”
The second phase will add a turn lane and a traffic light on Route 211 at the site. The last phase will deal with the closure and removal of the current crossover at Route 211 just west of Leakesville Road.
The other upcoming road project in Luray is the $1.8 million in planned improvements for Memorial Drive leading up to Page Memorial Hospital. The project is an extension of placing the new traffic light at Memorial and Main to better serve the hospital, the health department office, doctors offices, the Luray Rescue Squad and a longterm care facility.
With the addition of engineering costs, the total $2.3 million price tag for this project will be paid through revenue-sharing with the state in a 50-50 match from the town. Planned improvements include road widening; drainage improvements; curb, gutter and sidewalks on one side (next to rescue squad); replacement of utility lines for increased capacity and quality (clay to PVC); and general road improvements.
Construction plans for the Memorial Drive improvements should be completed by next summer, with a call for bids going out in 2022. Construction is expected to begin that same year and end in 2023.
One improvement planned along the south side of Memorial Drive — along with curb, gutter and sidewalks — is an access point for the property that sits adjacent to the Mimslynn Inn and in front of PMH.
“There have been several operations proposed there,” Chrisman said. “So, we decided that a commercial entrance at the bottom would be appropriate, so they don’t have to exit onto Main Street.”
There has been no activity or public plans announced for the property owned by developer Gary Mojeska in recent years.
According to Chrisman, there is some concern at the state level about cheap gas and fewer drivers on the road generating less funds for road improvements through reduced fuel taxes.
“There is some concern statewide about available funds going foward,” Chrisman said. “Thank goodness our funds are already in place.”
Despite the dwindling pool of funds, Chrisman feels confident that Luray will receive up to $750,000 in additional SGR grant funds to do “primary extension paving,” which could involve repaving and marking nine sections of Routes 211 and 340 through town. The project would be nearly 100-percent funded by the state and those funds would be in addition to routine maintenance funds the town receives from the state. The town is still waiting on final approval.
The assistant town manager also notes that the town will continue with pedestrian improvements around town, as well as addressing drainage issues in some areas. Over the past few years, Chrisman has also tried to “ramp up” the maintenance of the town’s nine bridges, which are inspected annually.
“We need to keep them maintained,” Chrisman said, “because they are a huge expense to build new ones.”