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Fall Hill widening plan gets backing

November 27, 2012 12:10 am


The planned Fall Hill Avenue and Mary Washington Boulevard extension projects got favorable reviews at Monday night's public meeting.

"It's a good plan," said Tyrone Rennick, who lives with his wife in Riverwalk, a newer housing development in the Bragg Hill area where Fall Hill will be widened. He said the road needs to be widened.

He also likes the plans for a multi-use path that will connect to a growing network in the city.

"It gives you a sense of community," said Rennick, who came to the meeting to see what impact the project would have on him and his wife. She works at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Fredericksburg, near Mary Washington Hospital. So he figures she'll like the Mary Washington extension, which will connect to Fall Hill Avenue near the Rappahannock Canal bridge.

Rennick was one of about 80 people who showed for the public meeting at James Monroe High School to learn about the projects, estimated to cost $45 million.

Fredericksburg and transportation officials were on hand, along with displays of plans and maps.

Doug Fawcett, the city's director of public works, told those who showed for the first of three presentations that the widening project has been in the plans "for many, many years."

He said the preliminary plans call for the work to be done from mid-2014 to mid-2016. That timeline could change as the designs make their way through the process.

The Fall Hill project will expand the lanes from two to four, which will connect to the section that has already been widened. There will be a shared-use path on one side of the road and a sidewalk on the other. The Interstate 95 bridge also will be replaced to allow for the lane widening.

The new bridge also will create more room beneath it so I-95 express lanes can be built in that area. Construction is under way to add the new electronically tolled lanes in the median of I-95 from Dumfries to Garrisonville. Eventually, transportation officials want to extend the express lanes to Massaponax.

The Mary Washington Boulevard extension will be a divided four-lane road and will connect to Fall Hill Avenue near the Rappahannock Canal bridge.

The canal bridge also will undergo big changes in a separate project. Work replacing the dilapidated bridge is scheduled to begin early next year and be finished in November, well before the other two projects begin.

The new intersection at Fall Hill Avenue and Mary Washington Boulevard, near the canal, will be a roundabout with three entry points, according to the plans.

Christopher and Erin Bradford, who live in Fredericksburg, were a little concerned about the roundabout, primarily because few drivers understand how to use them. Otherwise, they said they liked what they saw.

They also echoed what others at the meeting said: Traffic on Fall Hill can be bad.

"We're not getting any smaller," said city resident Chris Calamos. "Traffic isn't going to go away."

According to a project brochure handed out at the meeting, Fall Hill Avenue is nearing its capacity and traffic is expected to more than double in the next two decades.

"The projects," said the Virginia Department of Transportation's Kevin Northridge, "will have a positive impact on traffic flow."

The projects also will have an impact on some properties. One is what Fawcett called the Fall Hill Mansion, owned by Barry and Maureen Kefauver. Some of their property, near the road only, will be needed for right of way, Fawcett said, adding that the owners have been "generally supportive."

Part of the project's designs also call for a new Heritage Park apartments entrance, which will run where the basketball court is. The courts will be rebuilt nearby. Also, a partial realignment of Fall Hill will mean the end of the baseball fields across from the 7-Eleven. Those fields probably won't be missed as there is the new Sunshine Ballpark built by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation nearby.

Issues with the project's funding continue to linger.

The initial estimated cost of the projects, about 10 years old, has risen by nearly $10 million. Funding is short by several million at this point, but officials said they are confident they'll get the necessary funds.

"It's getting smaller," Fredericksburg Council member Matt Kelly said at the meeting, adding that they hope to get money from the state.

Mitch Johnson, with Kimley-Horn and Associates, said right of way acquisition costs and utility and power line relocation are factors in the increased estimate. The new bridge, though, is the major factor, adding some $8 million to the overall costs. Kimley-Horn is the project's design contractor.

Fall Hill will remain open during the project, though there will be disruptions to traffic, Fawcett said.

Fredericksburg has been the lead on the early portion of the project planning, but soon will hand it over to VDOT.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

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