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Supervisor Chris Granger (Center District) explains his position on the Marshall Main Street project at an Oct. 8 regular meeting of the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors.

UPDATE, Oct. 8, 10:30 p.m.: The Marshall Main Street improvement project will move forward after county supervisors voted four to zero Thursday evening to grant a $4.4 million construction contract to Shirley Contracting Company.

The resolution granting the contract originally included a provision that would have allocated $670,000 from the county’s contingency reserve fund for the project, which is now estimated to cost a total of $6.9 million, including construction costs, engineering fees and other expenses. The approved budget for the project is $6.2 million.

However, the provision adding money to the budget from the reserve fund was removed from the final draft of the resolution after concerns raised by Supervisors Chris Granger (Center District) and Chris Butler (Lee District). Both indicated they would prefer alternate funding sources be explored before allocating reserve funds.

At a Thursday morning work session, Deputy County Administrator Erin Kozanecki explained that the current budget is sufficient to award the construction contract. The costs that may bring total expenditures to $6.9 million, she said, are related to the utility undergrounding – work that is not scheduled to occur until the final phases of construction.

At the work session, board Chair Mary Leigh McDaniel (Marshall District) expressed confidence that if additional funding is ultimately needed that it could be raised from other sources, citing the 10% contingency built in to the project’s budget, as well as private donations.

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Mary Elizabeth Wilkerson, secretary of the Marshall Business and Residents Association, urges supervisors to halt the Marshall Main Street improvement project at an Oct. 8 meeting of the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors.

Some Marshall residents and business owners have vehemently opposed the project – their objections became a regular feature of citizens’ time during board meetings -- and 19 people Thursday evening asked supervisors to halt the project entirely.

Opponents of the project have cited repeatedly the increased tax burden and the effect on businesses during the construction phase. They also claim the project is preventing the Virginia Department of Transportation from performing routine maintenance on sidewalks and roads in the town. Additionally, they said, the project will make Main Street less safe because the total width of the street will be reduced from 40 feet to 38 feet.  

Two other speakers Thursday evening expressed support for the project, and a third criticized opponents of the project, claiming they were spreading “misinformation.”

Granger explained his decision to vote in favor of the resolution, claiming, “All the misinformation about this has been surprising, to say the least.”

Granger quoted emails from VDOT officials indicating the state – not the county – would be responsible for maintaining the sidewalks after the project is completed, contradicting what opponents of the project have claimed. He also refuted claims that the state agency would quickly renovate sidewalks and roads in Marshall if the project was canceled.

“Things with VDOT don’t happen overnight,” he said, explaining that the funding for the Eastern Bypass interchange project near Lord Fairfax Community College was approved eight years ago and discussions about that project date back two decades. “The notion that VDOT is going to come in and fix the sidewalks in any reasonable amount of time is a fantasy,” he added.

Canceling the project now, Granger said, would mean county taxpayers would be responsible for paying back approximately $700,000 in costs already incurred for the project. “I’m not going to spend my constituents’ dollars for nothing,” he said.

McDaniel, who made approving the Main Street project a center point of her election campaign, said the project would bring benefits to Marshall. “The value of having a vibrant Main Street cannot be discounted,” she said, adding that she respects some residents’ concerns but hopes the community can come together as the project breaks ground.

Supervisors McDaniel, Granger, Butler and Rick Gerhardt (Cedar Run District) all voted to approve the resolution to award the construction contract. Supervisor Holder Trumbo (Scott District) recused himself from the vote – as he has on previous votes related to the Marshall project – because he owns a business in the area.

UPDATE, Oct. 8, 12:50 p.m.: Supervisors will vote Thursday evening on a resolution that would award a $4.4 million construction contract for the Marshall Main Street improvement project. A provision has been removed from the resolution that would have allocated an additional $670,000 in funding for the project from the county’s reserve fund. No supervisor at a Thursday morning work session indicated they would vote against the resolution in its current form.

The resolution to be considered by supervisors now states: “[T]he project budget has sufficient funds to award the construction contract and related contingency and alternate funding means may be derived to offset utility related costs.”

At a Thursday morning work session, Deputy County Administrator Erin Kozanecki explained that the current budget of $6.2 million is sufficient to award the construction contract. The costs that may bring total expenditures to $6.9 million, she said, are related to the utility undergrounding – work that is not scheduled to occur until the final phases of construction.

Before Thursday, Supervisors Chris Butler (Cedar Run District) and Chris Granger (Center District) had both expressed concerns about allocating money from the reserve fund before alternate funding sources could be explored.

Butler said at the work session he supported the project and would like to see construction commence as soon as possible. He explained his reservations about taking funds from the county’s reserve stemmed from the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic and the upcoming presidential election.

Neither Butler nor Granger indicated they would vote against awarding the contract. If both men -- along with Board Chair Mary Leigh McDaniel, who expressed her intention to support the resolution -- vote in favor, the resolution would pass and the project would move into the construction phase.

Supervisor Rick Gerhardt (Lee District) did not comment during the meeting. Scott District Supervisor Holder Trumbo has recused himself from voting on matters concerning the Marshall project because he owns a business in the area.

Granger, as he has previously, pointed out that if the project is “canceled,” as some Marshall residents and businesses have repeatedly called for, the county government would still owe the Virginia Department of Transportation about $360,000 for review fess and other preliminary work, Kozanecki confirmed.

In a conversation with Granger during the work session, Kozanecki said approximately $700,000 has already been expended on the project, which includes engineering fees.

McDaniel expressed confidence that if additional funding is ultimately needed that it could be raised from other sources, citing the 10% contingency built in to the project’s budget and private donations.

ORIGINAL STORY: If Fauquier County supervisors vote this Thursday to approve a construction contract and an additional $670,000 in funding for the project, a proposal to renovate a section of Marshall’s Main Street in Marshall could overcome its final hurdle before breaking ground. 

However, a group of Marshall residents and business owners remains vehemently opposed to the project and a majority of supervisors would need to agree to allocate additional money from the county reserve fund for the project to move into the construction phase. Two supervisors have said on the record they have concerns about using additional county funds for the project, making the outcome of the upcoming vote far from certain. 

On the consent agenda for Thursday’s regular meeting is a resolution that would award a $4.4 million contract to Shirley Contracting Company, based in Lorton. That raises the total budget for the project to $6.9 million and would increase the county’s contribution by $670,000.

Shirley was one of three firms to submit bids for the project. It is the construction firm managing the interchange project near Lord Fairfax Community College in Warrenton, as well as numerous other recent road construction projects.

The project, which would affect Marshall’s Main Street from just west of Frost Avenue to just east of Winchester Road, would move all overhead utility wires underground, expand sidewalks – narrowing the street by about 2 feet -- add crosswalks, improve signage and add trees and street lighting.  

Use of county funds could be a sticking point

Funding to this point has come from several sources: $3.61 million from state and federal funds; $910,000 from donations and $583,000 from proffers (funded in advance by the county’s capital reserve). An additional $1.19 million comes from local matching funds: $545,413 from the county’s capital reserves and $643,272 funded up-front from reserve funds and will be paid back via an increase in the Marshall special lighting district tax. 

The tax increase would go into effect the year after construction commences and change the rate from $0.005 to $0.025 per $100 of assessed value for 10 years; the increase was passed by the board of supervisors in 2013. 

Though no current supervisor has expressed opposition to the project so far, whether the project moves forward or not may come down to that $670,000.

“I fully support the project in the existing funding parameters,” said Supervisor Chris Granger (Center District) Monday. “If additional funding is needed, I support an expansion of the taxing district size or private donations to make up the difference.” 

Supervisor Chris Butler (Lee District) said Tuesday, “We have heard from a lot of folks in support [of the project], especially from the Marshall area. I have reservations about the $670,000 and have asked for a thorough discussion for alternative funding options instead of tapping reserves.”

Board Chair Mary Leigh McDaniel (Marshall District) said Monday she is confident an agreement can be reached on the extra funding. “This is something we have to do generally,” she said of fluctuating budgets for major projects as they move through different stages of completion. 

She cited specifically the allocation of funds from the capital reserve to increase the budget for the Central Sports Complex in Midland, which was completed this summer. Several trail projects around the county have also required additional funding from the capital reserve, she said. 

As to whether the capital reserve would be effectively reimbursed to fund the increased budget for the Marshall project, McDaniel said that no option was off the table. She referenced the hundreds of thousands of dollars already raised by private donations and said there is a possibility more could be raised. 

She also said she would be open to expanding the geographic size of the special lighting tax district. On this point, she said the subdivision being constructed by Van Meter Homes in Marshall will fall within the special tax district, so expanding the size of the tax district may not be necessary.

“I’m confident we can circle back and do what we need to do,” she said. 

Supervisor Rick Gerhardt (Cedar Run District) declined to comment. Supervisor Holder Trumbo (Scott District) has recused himself from voting on matters related to Marshall Main Street because he owns a business in the area. 

Grassroots opposition to project remains

Led by Marshall Business and Residents Association President Mary Wilkerson and her daughter, MBRA Secretary Mary-Elizabeth Wilkerson, a group of Marshall residents and business owners have vocally opposed the project. Members of the group have been a regular feature at board meetings this year, repeatedly asking supervisors to “cancel” the project. The MBRA has also hosted rallies in Marshall to protest the project. 

Opponents of the project have cited the increased tax burden and the effect on businesses during the construction phase. The Wilkersons and other opponents claim that the project is preventing the Virginia Department of Transportation from performing routine maintenance on sidewalks and roads in the town.

The project, Mary-Elizabeth Wilkerson told supervisors in August, “will be destructive economically as well as physically to Marshall.”

The MBRA’s position is that supervisors should halt the project entirely before any contracts are awarded, and instead “improve Main Street with low-to-no-cost ways,” Mary Wilkerson said in February. She said that if the project is canceled, VDOT could repave the street and improve the sidewalks at little-to-no local cost. If the project is approved, she has repeatedly claimed, the county – not VDOT – will be responsible for maintenance of the sidewalks.

An email exchange between VDOT Project Coordinator John Price and Wilkerson, however, seems to contradict some of the Wilkerson’s claims. 

“If this project is canceled this year, can the project area get on the schedule for re-paving of Main Street next year?” Wilkerson asked in an Aug. 27 email. 

“No,” responded Price. “Paving work must be scheduled years in advance and usually cannot be placed on a schedule ahead of time in such short notice.”

Wilkerson wrote, “Can you confirm what we discussed when we walked Main Street in January of this year: That it is currently VDOT's responsibility to re-pave Main Street and to repair and maintain its sidewalks and curbs, and to bring up to current ADA code any handicap ramps when maintenance/repair is conducted?”

Price responded, “Correct. Paving work for this application typically requires curb ramps to be brought up to current standards.  However, sidewalk and curb repairs are usually not performed with paving schedule work and fall under separate repair and maintenance contracts.  It is our understanding the sidewalks were not part of the original VDOT Right of Way until the Marshall Main Street Improvements Project came into being.”

Finally, Wilkerson asked, “If the project is done, VDOT will no longer be responsible for the maintenance and repair of sidewalks and curbs within the project scope, but that responsibility will fall to Fauquier County?”

Price responded, “The sidewalks and curbs are within VDOT right of way, therefore VDOT will maintain them following completion of the project.”

Reach Coy Ferrell at cferrell@fauquier.com

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