On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, your Town Council
members and staff attended the Commonwealth Transportation Board meetings to
articulate the Town’s position on the remaining track alternatives put forward
by the Community Advisory Committee.
During 5 months of cooperation and hard work, the committee evaluated more than 25 options, looking for a solution that would do the least harm to the community as a whole. In the end, the committee could identify only two routes that were the “best of the worst” of everything considered – a suggested revision of a western bypass alternative, and a newly proposed three-track trench where the current surface level tracks pass through Ashland.
After a presentation by the DRPT on some of the specifics of
a trench, along with our preliminary research and numerous conversations with
residents and businesses directly impacted by it, it is with a heavy heart that
the Town cannot support the trench option.
Town will not survive 20-50 years of disinvestment in downtown. Town staff met
with our downtown businesses earlier this week. They resoundingly told us not
only would the three-year (undoubtedly longer) construction window cause them
to close, but they would actively look to move their business or shut down
completely in the years, or even decades, prior to construction. This economic
disinvestment is not just speculation. There has been data collected in other
communities such as St. Paul, MN, Salado, TX, and Norfolk, VA, communities who
have experienced long-term construction projects in the heart of their
downtown. It is undeniable that income loss is dramatic, leading to layoffs and
closures across the board.
● The number of properties and people
impacted by the trench is vastly greater than that of the western bypass. The
trench would impact at least 53 single family residential properties, two
apartment complexes, over twenty business storefronts, 15 commercial property
owners, a community library, an historic train station and all the properties
along the tracks on the Randolph-Macon College campus. All along, the Town has
argued that the impacts of this project are about people, not properties. The
three track trench would impact at least 138 residents, 40 business owners who
employ an additional 125-150 employees, and the 1,500+ staff and students of
three track trench will not produce a downtown pedestrian mall or a community
park through town as originally presented. The DRPT staff confirmed that only
30-40% of the trench will be “capped” with green space, and Center Street will
need to be rebuilt on both sides for necessary access to businesses and for
emergency vehicles. Once the sections are capped that are already adjacent to
road crossings, the majority of the trench will be just that….an open trench. The
drawings initially presented by DRPT were intended to be representative in
nature, and not actual examples of the length and appearance of the trench. The
state admits that the trench option is based on very preliminary engineering.
The remaining 90% of the engineering is yet to be done, and could reveal even
more restrictions on design, soil and water issues, impacts of construction and
train vibration to our historic structures, and what we expect to be the
biggest hurdle of all – how to build a 50’ x 33’ trench through an impossibly
narrow right of way.
As elected representatives and employees of Ashland, we are
obligated to protect the people of the Town and the investments they’ve made in
our community. There are too many unknowns with the trench option. What we’ve
learned in a short amount of time is that the negative impacts are adding up
exponentially. We will continue to work towards other solutions, but for now,
we must recommend the western bypass.
We encourage you to
take a look at this short video we put together, which captures what our
residents and business owners along the tracks truly feel about the trench: