Revitalizing a historic community

June 7, 2021

Route 9 serves as a key travel route through the Blue Ridge Mountains, connecting Charles Town, West Virginia, with Northern Virginia and Washington, DC. In the late 1990s, there was exponential growth in the number of commuters using Route 9, also known as Charles Town Pike, to access the area. Along this highway sits the Town of Hillsboro—a small Loudoun County, Virginia, community of roughly 100 residents.

Seeing the significant increase of commuter traffic, town leaders knew they needed to develop a plan to relieve the traffic, maintain safety for drivers and pedestrians, preserve the history of the Town, and protect the quality of life of its residents.

In addition to the transportation issue, they also needed to address water and wastewater issues. With a ‘Build it Once, Build It Right, Build It Now’ mentality, the Town of Hillsboro set into motion a grassroots initiative to solve its infrastructure problems and ensure a safe, healthy, and successful future.

“We are a small community that was founded before the Revolutionary War,” says Hillsboro Mayor Roger Vance. “We knew that this would be our one shot at a significant infrastructure improvements project. It was important for us to identify and solve every infrastructure challenge in this master plan.”

Hillsboro’s Old Stone School, photo courtesy of the Town of Hillsboro.

In 2006, elected officials and residents began consulting with experts, attending meetings and workshops, applying for funding grants, and searching for infrastructure partners.

The need for improvements continued to grow. By 2015, the Town saw 17,000 vehicles per day pass through its main street, and they were ready to hire an engineering consultant. 

Volkert was selected to provide multi-disciplinary, multimodal design services for the $30-million project, offering a full range of services from corridor planning to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) approvals to construction management and inspection services.

“The Town told us they hired Volkert based on our shortlist presentation of a comprehensive approach which addressed all of the key historic, traffic, pedestrian, utility, permitting, and construction phase elements,” comments Volkert’s vice president and Mid-Atlantic chief engineer Bobby Hester. “That approach had all of the design and construction management disciplines working together from the beginning to develop plans that were aesthetically pleasing, safe, constructable, and cost effective.”

Loudoun County joined a group of committed Hillsboro leaders in pledging financial support. The Town then turned to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) for funding. Thanks to a data-driven application, Hillsboro’s traffic calming project—named “ReThink9”—was poised to receive funds through NVTA’s six-year plan. Thanks to the tenacity, relentlessness, and passion of Hillsboro residents, NVTA saw the need and approved the application. The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors offered the balance of funding needed to move the project forward.

As part of Volkert’s design, two roundabouts, three at-grade and three raised mid-block crosswalks, safe parking, a new sidewalk network, and three multimodal trails now provide safe transportation infrastructure through the town.

Volkert also designed the proposed water systems; HDPE low-pressure sewer mains; underground Dominion Energy and Verizon utility conduit systems (coordinating with the utility companies to ensure proper delivery); and power and telecom duct bank systems (including upgraded utility services to all properties along the main corridor).

“We have completed—or will soon complete—21 tasks for the Town under this contract, delivering six separate projects ranging from funding applications to greenway trails to water and sewer design,” continues Hester. “In addition to design services, we are also providing construction management and inspection services, acting as the Town’s general engineering consultant for all infrastructure needs. Volkert’s lead engineer, Jason Jiménez-Pisani and construction management leads, Matt Weaver and Scott Cocherell, have done an excellent job delivering these projects for the Town.”

Above L-R: Town of Hillsboro Mayor Roger Vance and Loudoun County Blue Ridge Supervisor Tony Buffington; Hillsboro mural; Mayor Vance, Matt Weaver, and Town of Hillsboro Vice Mayor and Deputy Project Manager Amy Marasco. Photos courtesy of the Town of Hillsboro.

Contractor Archer Western officially began construction on March 6, 2020. Later that month, the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting daily life in the United States. With many people working remotely, commuter traffic through Hillsboro decreased dramatically.

Volkert saw the lighter traffic—and a significant water main break under Route 9—as an opportunity to alter the project plan and schedule. After completing a thorough traffic analysis, led by Volkert’s traffic manager for the Mid-Atlantic, Hari Thaker and his team, Volkert proposed a two-month full closure of Route 9 to help accelerate construction and provide safer work zones. These plans were developed in conformance with VDOT and Loudoun County standards and also allowed for simultaneous utility work.

Despite the early closure, at least one lane has been open to traffic throughout most of the project. It re-opened to two-way traffic this spring.

By tackling the construction of all infrastructure components at once, the Town of Hillsboro reduced costs and negative impacts to community residents and businesses.

The complexity of the project meant that construction crews were spread throughout the town. Residents, who were primarily traveling around town on foot, got to know workers and vice versa. A bond and a shared sense of pride in the project developed.

“I oversee the daily work and am happy to report that the investments of so many individuals and organizations are going to make a tremendous impact on this community,” says Volkert chief inspector for the project Jeffery “Jazzy” Shanks. “The quality of work that I see being performed on a daily basis is going to ensure infrastructure that not only solves the traffic and safety issues, but that will be a source of pride for years to come.”

Throughout the fall and winter, utility lines were installed, two roundabouts were completed, 13 retaining walls were erected, stormwater infrastructure was added to control runoff from adjacent mountains, sidewalks were poured, and raised crosswalks were introduced.

Construction photos, courtesy of the Town of Hillsboro.

All of the project partners, including Volkert, were committed to preserving the Town’s historic elements. Volkert landscape architecture and urban design manager, Oliver Boehm and his team, ensured that native trees and shrubs were planted, and appropriate bricks and other construction materials were selected to honor Hillsboro’s history.

The three multimodal Transportation Alternative Project Grant trails total 3,400 linear feet. The .22-mile, 10-foot-wide GapWay Trail connects the existing Mountain Road Trail to the historic downtown area using a combination of asphalt pavement and decorative surface finishes that match other historic elements.

The Gaver Mill Road and Stony Point trails—which are also included in the Pedestrian & Bicycle Trail Connectivity Master Plan—are under partial construction. Crews are currently installing miles of power and communication cables and removing overhead cables and poles within the Town. “Once the power is switched over, lines brought down, and the poles removed,” explains Mayor Vance, “the remaining segments of sidewalks, curbs, and gutters can be completed, streetlights installed, and the final layers of asphalt laid on Route 9.”

An aerial view of Route 9 in May 2021, courtesy of the Town of Hillsboro and Flying Fox UAV.

“We are honored to serve as a trusted partner of the Town of Hillsboro,” comments Volkert senior vice president Keith Weakley. “The opportunity to revitalize and rework the infrastructure of an entire community is a dream project for an engineer. We were proud to provide solutions for Hillsboro leaders, residents, visitors, and commuters.”

The partnership between Volkert and the Town of Hillsboro won’t end with this traffic calming project. Volkert looks forward to providing additional services to the Town, including site plans for the historical Post Office and Old Stone School event venue, as well as the design of a new wastewater treatment plant.

The Town of Hillsboro hosted an official ribbon cutting ceremony on June 18, 2021, to celebrate the on-time and on-budget reopening of 24/7, two-way traffic.

The event brought together Town of Hillsboro, Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA), and Loudoun County representatives; government officials; residents; business owners; and project engineers and contractors.

Photos from the June 18 ribbon cutting ceremony, courtesy of the Town of Hillsboro. Top left: Bobby Hester; Top middle: event signage; Top right: Volkert employees; Bottom: the official cutting of the ribbon.

Volkert Communications