RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — After years of congestion and confusion, the massive construction project on Forest Hill Avenue is finally finished.
8News wanted to check in with residents and business owners to see how they’re feeling about the anticipated changes. Folks said they are relieved the traffic headaches are over and called it a Christmas miracle.
Drivers were pleasantly surprised during Tuesday’s lunch rush that it was smooth sailing along Forest Hill Avenue. That’s a far cry from a few months ago, when drivers were forced to navigate endless orange cones, confusing lane changes, construction crews and barriers.
Keith MacPhee was taking his dog to a pet store in the Stratford Hills Shopping Center, right near the roadway, and remembers when things weren’t so smooth.
“It was an area that you just didn’t want to come down anymore,” MacPhee said. “It’s been way too long, but thank God it’s finally open.”
As of Tuesday, Richmond residents are enjoying the open space with less congestion.
“I’m relieved!”, one resident laughed as she told 8News. Another saying, “Oh my God. It’s so nice that it’s over.”
The Forest Hill Avenue Improvement Project entails lane expansion, new traffic signals, crosswalks, bike lanes, drainage systems, lighting and gutters. It also includes raised landscape medians for left turn lanes, storm sewers for better drainage and improved lighting.
After three frustrating years, the city announced on Monday that the project is complete. It encompasses Forest Hill Avenue from Powhite Parkway and Hathaway Road. The planning process started back in 2009 after a three-year study recorded more than 200 crashes on that stretch of road. Ground broke in 2017 with improvements expected to wrap up in mid-2020, but utility issues stalled the work.
Businesses and restaurants like Galley, located right near the construction, took the brunt of it. Leanna Gee, the bar manager, said sometimes the traffic impacted business.
“You’d have to add an extra twenty minutes to your commute,” Gee explained. “Lunches were just half the amount of business and we’re hoping it’s going to bring more people into this area and less hesitant to drive over here.”
Richmond residents Smokie Crews and Tali Alcorn are thrilled that the improvements are finished telling 8News the traffic pattern was often confusing, especially at night.
“It truly is a Christmas miracle! Yea baby! And we are all so happy and excited about it,” Crews exclaimed.
The two have been friends since kindergarten and met in the Stratford Hills Shopping center for a holiday gift exchange and lunch. Both driving the less chaotic route and loving it.
“What they’ve done is just spectacular,” Alcorn said. “It’s so much easier to get around. We are just very happy, very very happy!”
The project was originally budgeted for $13 million, but with the delays many are asking if the cost has changed. City officials tell 8News the final ‘close-out process’ will take three to four months, however they’re still estimating a cost of $13 million.