Answers Lacking for Economic and Traffic Impacts

Two massive mixed-use projects, East Ashland and Providence Creek, proposed to be built along Route 54 east of I-95 will heavily impact our mobility, our taxes, and our quality of life. We implore the Hanover County Board of Supervisors and Ashland Town Council to fully consider the development proposals and their potential impacts on existing and future residents of Hanover County.

At build-out, the two developments along with Woodside Estates, will usher in over 1300 new homes, condominiums, and apartments. An estimated 35,000 daily vehicle trips will be generated from the influx of new homes and approximately one million square feet of new stores and shops. Once constructed, these developments will increase demand for new services and infrastructure, i.e. roads, sewer, schools, libraries, fire, and police. New growth and new services come with a hefty price a tag.

Development approvals should not be mistaken for economic development. Hanover County can avoid the economic woes of our neighbors in Northern Virginia. Loudoun County folks considering their 2011 budget are facing a debt obligation of $175.5 million (equal to 24.2 cents of their current tax rate). This is unsustainable, especially when average home values are decreasing. Loudoun’s average home value dropped 25% from 2007 to 2010.

Why has Hanover County government as well as the town of Ashland chosen not to conduct an economic impact study of the proposed East Ashland and Providence Creek developments? During a time fraught with economic challenges including decreasing state and local tax revenues as well as declining home values and unemployment, doesn’t it make sense to carefully assess the tax burden that these two new developments will impose upon Hanover residents?

Although an economic impact study has yet to be performed, traffic impact analyses have been conducted. Projected traffic increases along Route 54, especially at its juncture with I-95, approach gridlock. What’s most troubling? The traffic component has received the least attention in planning and foresight. The proposed changes for Route 54-East have included: closure of historic Providence Church Road and/or converting the Providence Church Road into a “Main Street” lined on both sides with commercial development; enlarging and/or creating new intersections; adding five to seven more traffic lights; and widening Route 54 from two lanes to four lanes.

The public may not be aware of other options discussed. For example, a “diverging diamond” at the I-95 interchange popped up one month and was then discarded the next month. Given the major uptick in projected traffic volumes, this is not a careful, strategic approach to solving new and unforeseen traffic issues associated with East Ashland, Providence Creek and Woodside Estates. Why haven’t citizens been offered smarter growth solutions for handling increased traffic such as modern roundabouts?

While numbers of citizens have participated in public hearings and workshops with developers and planners regarding design, size, and character of the proposed developments, none of these meetings has focused specifically on traffic, involved representatives from VDOT, or road and traffic engineers.

Significant impacts of the proposed East Ashland and Providence Creek developments need to be fully considered and analyzed, especially with regard to tax implications and traffic issues. The Code of Virginia intends a balance of “…the community’s interests and rights to enjoy their properties with the rights of developers to derive profit as they impact existing communities.” With taxes and traffic issues unsatisfactorily addressed, the scales seem tipped against Hanover and Ashland citizens.