By Carol Vaughn —
Accomack County officials voted to submit two different applications to the highway department for improvements to Chincoteague Road — hoping one will make the cut for funding in a statewide program.
The Accomack County Board of Supervisors voted 8-0 to submit one VDOT Smart Scale application to make the road between T’s Corner and Atlantic Road into a four-lane divided highway — their preferred option — and a second application for a less expensive project that would add wide shoulders and a turn lane, in some areas, to the road.
“The road needs improvement. … For technical reasons — road capacity, the extra right of way, existing traffic now, the uncertainty with some future growth — it’s hard to justify, technically” the four-lane option, said Rich Morrison, deputy county administrator of planning and community development.
“That’s the reason we are suggesting two applications,” he said.
Three options for improving the road were considered in a preliminary study.
The third would add 8-foot shoulders to the two-lane road.
The Planning Commission recommended Accomack apply for the four-lane option, but had concerns about the impact on residences because of the 118-foot right of way needed, according to a memorandum.
The estimated cost of building a four-lane highway is $27.6 million, according to the study.
Adding shoulders alone would cost around $14.6 million, and adding shoulders and a turn lane would cost around $18.5 million.
The Smart Scale application cycle comes only every two years, and competition for funds is statewide.
Supervisor Ron Wolff was among board members speaking in favor of the four-lane option.
“Looking at these options, obviously money is a big issue here,” he said.
Still, he said, “Four lanes would be the best alternative on (Route) 175 — particularly with the amount of summer traffic, the amount of traffic at launches, the amount of traffic that could come with developments of the Wallops Research Park, with enhanced development of the Navy facility.”
Wolff said elsewhere in Virginia “roads that lead to attractions like Chincoteague, those roads are all four-lane divided highways.”
Supervisor Billy Joe Tarr, who represents Chincoteague, said he has traveled all his life on the road.
“It’s a very dangerous place — there’s nowhere to go,” he said, adding, “…I think we had better ask for what we need.”
If either project is approved, it would be at least four to five years before construction begins, according to Chris Isdell, VDOT Accomac Residency Administrator.
Isdell recommended the board clearly state its preferred option in the application and also include letters of support from entities that would use the road.
Under Smart Scale, projects are scored and prioritized based on an “outcome-based process that is transparent to the public and allows decision-makers to be held accountable to taxpayers,” according to VDOT.
Once projects are scored and prioritized, the Commonwealth Transportation Board selects projects for funding.