By Stephen Smoot
The proposed upgrades to U.S. Route 33 on the Virginia slope have taken a long and winding road since the initial plans released in 2018, but may take a giant step toward implementation soon.
In 2018, a study revealed that more than 2,000 vehicles cross the mountain daily, including an increasing number of large trucks. Earlier this year, crews removed dangerous rock formations out of the way of traffic, but the Virginia Department of Transportation is eyeing more improvements.
Five years ago, the original plan called for 1.83 miles of roadway to see improvements starting at the bottom of the mountain slope. This would start to match substantial improvements by the West Virginia Department of Highways which widened some lanes and constructed passing lanes for trucks on the western slope.
“We’ve tried for years to have improvements made to the Virginia side. West Virginia made improvements to our side, now it’s Virginia’s turn,” Rick Gillespie, Pendleton County emergency services coordinator told WHSV last year.
Rockingham County in Virginia filed a SMART SCALE application for Commonwealth highways funds to remedy the issue. The lowest bid for the approximately $8 million budgeted project came in at $10 million. Rockingham County subsequently shaved a half mile off of the proposal, but the second round of bids received in February 2022, then a third round, continued to come in above budget.
In the years since the initial application, costs for such projects have surged. First came the pandemic, then supply chain, staffing, and federal relief policies that contributed to rising inflation which adversely affected such projects around the nation.
In response to an inquiry, VDOT provided an update on their US 33 plans. According to Sandy Myers, communications manager for the Staunton District, “VDOT is currently evaluating the estimate and having an outside consultant provide an independent estimate. Based on this information we plan on adding additional funds to the project.”
Myers went on to share that “VDOT will then re-advertise the project in August with the same project limits as advertised recently. With additional funding in place and the opportunity for more competitive bids, we are optimistic that we can move the project forward.”
The hope is that the increased funding will provide enough financial room for a firm to offer a competitive bid and complete the work in the near future.
The truncated project, however, will leave two dangerous curves on the roadway out that were included in the original proposal. With commercial, tourist, and other traffic on the mountain continuing to increase, however, continuing improvements on the Virginia side will continue to be welcomed and appreciated by those in West Virginia.