Town Council mulls VDOT offer to postpone repaving Grace Street

Published 4:07 pm Thursday, February 29, 2024

Repaving Grace Street this summer could exacerbate the frequent traffic jams downtown Smithfield has seen since the January start of a nearly two-year rehabilitation of the Cypress Creek Bridge.

But delaying the repaving until after the bridge reopens to two-way traffic could cause its own problems.

“There’s no right answer,” said Smithfield Town Councilman Jeff Brooks, himself a Grace Street resident. “It is in terrible shape, but when you see traffic trying to get out of town at rush hour … traffic’s backed up on Grace … past my house, and Main Street is even worse.”

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Anticipating a 2022 start for repaving Grace, the town undertook a nearly year-long replacement of the road’s water and sewer mains in 2021, but the asphalt has remained in its patched state ever since.

Virginia Department of Transportation contractors, in late January, restricted the circa-1975 bridge to one-way traffic into downtown, which will remain in effect throughout the nearly two-year rehabilitation project. Now, it can take up to 20 minutes during rush hour to drive the three-quarter mile distance from the corner of South Church and Main streets to Main’s intersection with the Route 10 Bypass, the only remaining way out of the historic district. Some motorists have attempted to avoid the backlog on Main Street by instead traveling down Grace, which runs parallel.

According to Town Manager Michael Stallings, VDOT is willing to postpone the repaving if the council desires.

“If we do it now, clearly it’s going to have a significant impact on traffic, especially when it’s already heavy on Grace Street,” Stallings said.

“We either make the pain longer by two months or make the pain really bad for two months,” said Councilman Jim Collins.

Collins and Councilman Michael Smith said they both supported a delay. Brooks said he planned to solicit input from his neighbors and other town residents before making a decision.

Mayor Steve Bowman, who noted the repaving had been postponed last year due to coming in over budget, raised concerns over whether delaying the work again until mid- to late 2025 would result in the cost again increasing beyond what’s allocated.

“Sure you can push it out but then at the end of the ‘out’ period are you going to be able to pave the roadway? That’s what concerns me,” Bowman said.

Councilman Randy Pack said delaying the work to late 2025 would also result in the repaving coinciding with an Isle of Wight County-administered $8.4 million widening of Main Street at the Route 10 Bypass intersection slated to begin in January 2026. The widening is funded with state money through Smart Scale, a VDOT formula that ranks projects for funding based on their cost versus regional benefit.

Proceeding with the repaving this summer could also intersect with a county-administered, largely grant-funded project to extend Main Street’s sidewalks west past the planned 267-home Grange at 10Main development to Westside Elementary. 

According to Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson, the project is expected to go out for bid in the next 30 to 60 days and construction of the sidewalks is slated to begin this summer. Construction should last eight months to a year.

Dr. Joey Bikkers, who recently wrote a letter to the council concerning the Grace Street repaving, described the Cypress Creek Bridge and Grace Street projects coinciding as “beyond logic.”

“There’s been no public notice” aside from a visit to his Grace Street physical therapy office from a VDOT contractor, Bikkers said.

According to Alvord, the project contractor has been visiting residents and businesses along Grace Street over the past two weeks as part of VDOT’s standard communication process.

“Communication and coordination on this project remain ongoing between VDOT and the Town of Smithfield to achieve the successful delivery of this paving project for the community,” Alvord said.