Hillsboro, Va., may have fewer than 200 residents, but it is a community that knows how to get things done. After identifying a number of infrastructure concerns in the early 2000s, the town created a comprehensive plan to address — and subsequently pay for — the needed updates. The result was ReThink9, a $34 million, multifaceted road and infrastructure project on the town’s historic main street, the Charles Town Pike (Route 9).
A huge undertaking
ReThink9 consisted of two roundabouts, raised crosswalks, sidewalks, a new municipal drinking water system, wastewater treatment facility, stormwater collection system, underground utility lines and state-of-the-art, dark-sky-compliant streetlamps. The project was designed to relieve congestion and improve traffic flow while enhancing safety for motorists and pedestrians alike. The town of Hillsboro applied for dozens of grants over a 15-year period, appealing to every potential agency at the local, state and federal level.
According to Mayor Roger Vance, Virginia Department of Health grants were applied to the drinking water project, as were grants from Loudoun County.
“Loudoun County was also the source for a sizeable portion of the sanitary sewer infrastructure, along with town financing,” he said. “After applications for highway funds from VDOT were unsuccessful, the town appealed to Loudoun County and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. In 2018, the town was awarded $12 million from NVTA, combined with another $12 million from Loudoun County, enabling us to move toward a final design that integrated all the infrastructure and construction.”
Originally slated to take three years, the project team used a data-driven process to maximize productivity while trimming the budget wherever possible. Vance said by making the decision to complete everything at once, the town reduced the work schedule to 14 months and cut costs by over $5 million.
“Because of the vagaries of funding, we were forced to continually model different options and scenarios, including disengaging projects and phasing. However, the objective of ‘build it once’ was always paramount,” Vance said. “We presented the explicit and undeniable data that clearly showed the cost savings and common sense of building it as one project.”
As the owners of the ReThink9 project, it was imperative that Hillsboro’s leadership knew and understood every aspect and element, understood the funding mechanisms and processes, knew and understood who the decision-makers were, and always displayed the utmost in confidence and capability.
“Likewise, we laid down unwavering principles for the project,” Vance added.
A pandemic presents opportunity
One week before ReThink9’s start date of March 6, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns threw the entire project into uncertainty. Together with contractor Archer Western, Hillsboro implemented strict protocols to keep workers healthy while keeping the project on track; however, on April 1, the town’s aged water main, which was slated for replacement in November, collapsed, causing an immediate health emergency.
“With that emergency and the dramatic decrease in traffic resulting from COVID shutdowns, we requested a complete resequencing of the project that would accelerate the utility work and require a complete closure of the road within the work zone to complete the water main,” Vance said. “It was one of those rare things in which the pandemic actually helped us get the job done.”
After an intense negotiation with the Virginia Department of Transportation, Hillsboro closed the road to traffic from May 4 to Aug. 15. This enabled crews unfettered access to the work zone and allowed for the completion of the utility and deep excavation work. Vance said by planning ahead, anticipating the risks and having the ability (as the owner of the project) to make fast decisions that helped them adjust to unforeseen challenges, they made the most of their time and resources to build the project once and build it right.
“(ReThink9 has been) totally transformational, creating a context sensitive, pedestrian-safe environment that has reinstated a sense of place and community,” Vance said. “The project has already spurred significant economic development opportunities.”
The road ahead
With the Rethink9 project behind them, Hillsboro is already contemplating its next project — the completion of three multimodal trails in the spring of 2022 that will provide complete pedestrian connectivity and create a hub to a growing biking network in rural Loudoun. There will also be the installation of a wastewater treatment package plant at the same time, permitting the connection of residences to the system via the already-installed low-pressure force main. “(We are also excited to) have high-speed broadband availability to each residence and business via town-owned fiber optics installed in our fiber optic conduit system, which was built as part of the undergrounding of utilities during the ReThink 9 road project,” Vance said.