RICHMOND, VA—Millions of tax payer dollars were spent building a road near Farmville that many claim should have never been built, dubbing it the "Road to Nowhere."
Located just outside of Farmville, a short drive down Route 15 in rural Price Edward County, you'll find Granite Falls Boulevard—a road many of the locals have taken to calling the "Road to Nowhere."
"That's a good name for it; it's a good name for it," said Lacie Ward Sr., a former member of the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors.
Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors Chairman William "Buckie" Fore said the road was built to "take traffic off of [Route] 628 going through the schools."
But some who live in the area disagree.
"We felt this road was not to benefit the citizens of the county, but rather for a developer that's building a hotel and we don't think our tax dollars should go for that," said Sam Camppell who protested the road's construction.
So why was the road built? School safety or a special benefit for a hotel developer— it depends on who you ask.
"For people who want to say it was built for the hotel and only for the hotel, that's just simply wrong," said County Administrator Wade Bartlett.
The county claims that Route 628, locally known as Zion Hill Road, which runs right through the middle of Prince Edward's School Complex is dangerous. The county claims because of the high volume of traffic a new road, routing vehicles out and around the school property, needed to be built.
"[The road's] completion is a huge accomplishment towards enhancing the safety of Prince Edward Public School Complex," said Fore.
But critics claim the road was built to provide access to a proposed hotel and conference center and claim the school safety justification only came up as an excuse when it became apparent the hotel may never be built.
When viewers contacted 8News questioning the road, 8News began investigating, digging through files and documents.
The county administrator says they've known a new road was needed since 1999, and VDOT was asked to conduct a traffic safety study on the road.
8News obtained the finding of that study and found multiple red flags.
According to the study, more than two thirds of all traffic on the road was school or county office related. At peak hours, that number jumped to more than 80%, the study found.
In three years, there were five accidents, three of which occurred during school hours, according to the study. In those incidents, the study found six of the seven drivers involved were teenagers, and nowhere in the report does VDOT recommend building a new road.
"It is a peak traffic problem; primarily it is not a fundamental traffic safety issue," said Jack Houghton who questions why the road was built.
VDOT suggests a pedestrian over or under pass to keep students separated from traffic and claims most congestion issues could be fixed by staggering school start and finish times.
On the report in bold print it reads "most of this problem can be cured through adjustments by the same people causing the problem.
"One of the reasons that they've stated is to increase safety at the school— there's nothing in the record to show they've had accidents up at the school to warrant this," said Ward Sr.
In 2010, the county asked VDOT to update its 1999 traffic study. This report only recommended changing the location of some safety signs and repainting cross walks—again the report contained no mention of a need for a new road.
Critics of the so called road to nowhere, point to the contract the county signed with a hotel developer on July 15, 2009. The contract clearly states the county was obligated to construct "a new public road."
Reinforcing critic's arguments, the only turn off of any kind on Granite Falls Boulevard is at the proposed sight of the hotel.
"Obviously there was a turnoff that was specially built going into directly where the proposed hotel is to be," said Houghton. Records obtained by 8News show taxpayers paid nearly $50,000 to construct that turnoff.
And it's not just why the road was built, but also the financing of the road that's troubling citizens. As part of the contract with the hotel developer, special tax assessments will be levied on food and beverage sales at the sight that will pay the county back up to 55% of the cost of relocating the road— approximately $2 million, but there's a catch.
"If the hotel is never built, there will be no revenues coming from the special tax assessment and the county will be stuck with entire cost of building the road," Houghton explained.
County leaders have also said more than half the road is being built for "free."
"$2.1 million is what we're getting from VDOT, so that's over half, and when you're getting road built getting over half of it paid for free it's hard to walk away from that," said Sharon Carney the Prince Edward County Director of Economic Development.
But outraged citizens contend it's not free money and just because money is coming from VDOT, and not the county, doesn't mean taxpayers aren't stuck footing the bill.
"Local government has gone completely out of bounds," said Hud Marston who stood holding a sign protesting the road on the day the county held a ribbon cutting ceremony opening Granite Falls Boulevard, aka the "Road to Nowhere".
Copyright 2013 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond
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