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Reactions were nearly uniform among local leaders and citizens who gathered in a hotel ballroom Thursday afternoon to get a look at plans to widen Interstate 64: This has been a long time coming.
The plans call for a third lane to be built from about half a mile east of Lee Hall (Exit 247) to 1.05 miles west of Route 199 (Exit 242).
When complete, the work — phase two of a three phase widening project — will join phase one, a project set to begin later this year which adds a lane from near Jefferson Avenue (Exit 255) in Newport News to the start of phase two.
“This is long overdue,” said Supervisor Mary Jones (Berkeley), who attended Thursday’s I-64 widening public hearing at the DoubleTree by Hilton Williamsburg. She said she “absolutely” supports the project and she looks forward to one day seeing the road widened all the way to Richmond.
The plans call for the new lanes to be added to the median, with a contract awarded to a contractor by winter and work starting next year. The existing roadway would also be resurfaced, and the nine bridges in the work area would be widened. The project is estimated to cost $213 million and to be completed by 2019.
Del. Monty Mason (D-93) attended Thursday’s hearing. He said it is great to see an “aggressive timeline” for work to start on the project.
“The Peninsula needs serious attention and to the credit of [the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission, which allocates money toward regional road projects], they’re giving it to us,” he said. “We’ve got to keep the momentum up.”
Mason said phase three of the project, which would widen the road from where phase two ends to near Lightfoot (Exit 234), is important to avoid setting up a bottleneck near Water Country USA.
Larry Bailey, a James City County resident who attended the hearing, shared Mason’s concern about a bottleneck.
“[VDOT’s] proposal says [the widening] will do a lot, but I don’t see that happening,” he said. “I see it pushing cars together [by Water Country USA]. If they were going to West Point, it would have some value.”
Janet Hedrick, the VDOT design project manager overseeing the project’s planning, said the bottleneck issue will not be nearly as pronounced as it currently is in Newport News, where the road drops from four lanes to two.
There are currently 96,000 vehicles per day using the road at that bottleneck, while the site where the road would drop from three lanes to two by Water Country USA sees 61,000 vehicles per day.
While the bottleneck may exist for a time near Water Country USA, plans call for construction to begin on phase three in 2018 with the project complete by 2021.
VDOT used the public hearing to gather feedback about the project. Attendees were given a worksheet asking questions like, “Do you support this project?” There was also a station where attendees could record their thoughts about the project.
The public hearing is one of several steps on the long road to completion for an interstate highway project. HRTAC voted in April to allocate $6 million for preliminary engineering work on the project, a necessary move before any work can begin.
Before work can begin, the state’s Commonwealth Transportation Board must include the project in its Six Year Improvement Program. VDOT anticipates the CTB will consider the addition in December. The Federal Highway Administration also needs to approve the project.
Work will begin on phase one by Labor Day. That project, which costs an estimated $122 million, is slated for completion by December 2017.
The specific plans shown off Tuesday are available here.
Citizens who were unable to attend the meeting can share their thoughts on the project by contacting VDOT through email at Janet.Hedrick@VDOT.Virginia.gov or by sending them to the following address:
Janet Hedrick, P.E., Virginia Department of Transportation
1992 South Military Highway
Chesapeake, Va. 23320
All subject lines should read “I-64 Segment II Capacity Improvements Comment.” Comments are due by May 10.