The Strange Saga Of Greggsville Road
Some things seem to move really slow here in western Loudoun County – that hay-hauling tractor in front of you on Snickersville Turnpike, or the gang of wild turkeys trying to make it to the other side, for example. And, some things seem to happen virtually overnight.
For Madeline Skinner and her husband Mark – owners of the Philomont General Store – things moved way too fast with the recent VDOT/Loudoun County decision to pave all 2.8 miles of Greggsville Road (end to end), from Jeb Stuart Road to Telegraph Springs Road – which are both also gravel roads.
First, neighbors saw engineers taking readings and measurements, and placing red stakes at various points in the road. Inquiries were made to find out what was going on with Greggsville Road. But, at that point the public hearing had already taken place, and the Board of Supervisors’ had already voted to approve the secondary roads six-year plan including the paving of Greggsville Road.
In a strange twist, the funding for the work on Greggsville will come, not through VDOT to the county, but via funding secured by Senator Dick Black (R-13th District). Black first submitted earmark legislation to fund the paving project. That earmark did not make it into the final state budget, so Black requested funding as part of a “pilot program.” Opponents of the paving say that this was approved despite the fact that Greggsville did not meet the required pilot project criteria. To qualify, Greggsville would need to intersect with “existing paved roads” at both ends. Greggsville Road meets gravel roads on both ends – Telegraph Springs and Jeb Stuart Roads are both gravel. Greggsville Road is also a very low traffic road.
The twisty-turny way the road ended up on a list to be paved was further complicated by the fact that Senator Black’s third highest campaign donor – who contributed $101,400 to Black – lives on Greggsville Road, leading several citizens to question the motivation behind what one called this “road to nowhere.”
In fact, Senator Black has been clear in his support of paving Greggsville saying: “Please pave the road … I’m not for many of them, but this is one we ought to do.”
Although not suggesting any impropriety, neighbors claimed that it is very rare for a Virginia state official to get involved in the paving of a little known rural road.
“I respect Senator Black’s stand on issues of importance to the State of Virginia,” said a nearby neighbor. “But, I’m surprised he would have his hands in this kind of thing. Locals should make these decisions.”
Many of those in favor of the paving live in the nearby newer subdivisions of Hunting Hill and Willowin. And, although records show that supporters of the Greggsville project have voiced their concerns about the condition of the road going back to 2014, there are questions about those activities, too.
Said Skinner, “I have the  letter to Janet Clark … from the Hunting Hill/Willowin HOA and their petition, also a letter to the Board of Supervisors by a concerned individual who worked very hard to share all these facts. To be clear, my husband’s and my name appear as signing the petition, it was an error on their part, we did not sign it. We DO NOT WANT Greggsville Rd. paved. The community’s safety is at risk. Speeds will increase, there is no question. Reconsider the decision.”
Further muddying the recent decision is a Rural Roads Update provided by Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) in his “Catoctin District Update” from October 2014.
In that update Higgins discusses a “Rural Road Ride” with Senator Black, Delegate Randy Minchew (R-10th District), Delegate Dave LaRock (R-33rd District), Henry Plaster of a local preservation group’s rural road committee and VDOT representatives. The purpose of the ride “focused on observing the progress of eleven rural roads selected by VDOT for additional maintenance this year … to bring lasting maintenance solutions to the highest traveled and most resource-demanding gravel roads.” Higgins’ updated continued: “[the] Tour observed great improvements to the drainage and surface quality of the roads … as of October 2014, all eleven roads identified as the Top 11 Priority Roads in Loudoun have been completed …including Route 622 Greggsville Road between routes 611[Telegraph Springs Road] & 630 [Jeb Stuart Road] – 2.81 miles.”
Although a paved, impervious surface is necessary for high traffic roads, dirt and gravel works just as well for low-traffic roads – as long their surfaces and basic features are well maintained. Specific maintenance techniques include keeping roadside ditches and drainage pipes in good working order, rounding out road edges to facilitate water runoff, filling potholes in with gravel, treatments that reduce dust, etc. The photos shown here reflect the current condition on Greggsville Road between Jeb Stuart Road and North Fork Road, shortly after the road surface was dragged with basic road maintenance equipment.
Paved roads invite greater speeds and, by default, tend to favor car travel over uses such as walking, horseback riding and cycling, whereas well-maintained dirt roads accommodate all on a more equal basis.
The Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition represents some 30 organizations working to protect the county’s historic and environmental assets, including its outstanding network of rural roads. The organization’s Rural Roads Committee has been working side-by-side with county officials and VDOT to protect historically significant roads, with Greggsville at the top of its list, along with Williams Gap Road, Nixon Road, Lakefield Road and Rocky Lane. “Almost all the rural roads we use today,” notes the LCPCC, “appear on Yardley Taylor’s 1854 map of Loudoun County … Greggsville Road, also clearly visible on the 1854 map was named for the Greggs who owned and farmed property nearby in the early 19th Century … This road was very likely used by the huge Federal Army of the Potomac as it came through Loudoun in late 1862 in pursuit of General Robert E. Lee after the terrible battle at Antietam.” According to LCPCC testimony, the rural road plan developed in by VDOT and the county “will do far more damage to our rural road network that is necessary to address [specifically] identified issues.”
LCPCC and the Loudoun County Equine Association, which also opposes the paving of Greggsville notes that while rural dirt roads can make automobile traffic a little less convenient at times, they are irreplaceable assets to the mainstays of our rural economy and tourism industry. The equine industry alone – which includes horse events, horseback riding and training, as well as horse breeding and veterinary businesses – contributes $180 million annually to our economy (excluding property taxes). The industry also supports some 3,000 jobs and brings over 75,000 spectators and participants to Loudoun every year, one-third of them from out of state.
Supporters of the paving cite safety concerns. Records from the Loudoun County Sheriff’s office show just five incidents occurred on this stretch of road in the last five years (January 2011 to October 2016). Most involved driver error and one involved a car colliding with an animal.