Students and residents can expect to see some major changes to the downtown area taking shape this summer, but local business owners will notice hassles such as traffic restrictions long before the transformation is complete.
A project to improve downtown roads and sidewalks will begin construction this summer, affecting the stretch of North Main Street from College Avenue to Kabrich Street. It will reduce the road from two lanes in both directions to one lane in
both directions, widen and brick the sidewalks and place shade trees and decorative lighting that will match the rest of downtown. The intersection of Main Street and Prices Fork Road will be replaced with a roundabout.
“We are still waiting for federal authorization, but we are hoping to be under construction by June or July,” said Brandon Steele, Blacksburg’s urban transportation manager.
With a total cost estimated at $11.2 million, construction on the project is expected to take at least two years.
“Visually it will look better, and traffic flow will be better. It will be a suitable entrance for Virginia Tech’s Performing Arts Center,” said Leslie Hager-Smith, a Blacksburg Town Council member.
The project is intended to make the street more amenable to pedestrians and integrated with the rest of downtown.
“There is room for improvement. For example, currently it is not very pedestrian friendly,” Steele said. “Our goal is to extend downtown to the Prices Fork area and to improve pedestrian safety.”
According to the Virginia Department of Transportation, there were a total of 151 vehicle related accidents on this stretch of North Main Street between Jan. 1, 2004 and April 23, 2008. Out of these, 16 involved pedestrians or bicycles.
Among the businesses that now line this stretch of North Main Street, few are happy about the upcoming changes, and many are worried about how the two-year period of construction will affect business.
“It’s going to be a detriment to the businesses of Blacksburg,” said Stan Davis of Eats Natural Foods. “If it’s more difficult to get to the business — people just aren’t going to come.”
Eats Natural Foods has been in Blacksburg for 36 years and is currently located at the intersection of Main Street and Prices Fork Road, which will soon be replaced by a roundabout.
The traffic circle is another aspect of the project that some disagree with.
“I think they might work in other places, but I don’t think it will work here,” said William Smith, manager of Blacksburg Auto Parts on North Main. “I think it will put a lot of traffic on the back streets for people trying to avoid this mess.”
For Scott Erlich, manager of Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea, the long period of construction near his business is a major source of stress. He is particularly worried about the permanent constriction of North Main.
“I don’t want to be negative, but it’s a four-lane road and they want to make it a two-lane road,” Erlich said. “My guess is that’s going to make it harder to get here, and I can’t see how that’s going to affect my business for the better.”