SALEM – It stretches the length of an entire conference room table – and then some. The concept plan for improvements to the portion of East Main Street from Thompson Memorial Drive to Lakeside unroll like a giant scroll of ideas for a more attractive entrance into Salem from Rt. 419.
Once the Virginia Department of Transportation draws up specifics, gone will be the electric poles and wires lining the street. All the utilities will be underground; there will be landscaping and post lamps along the street similar to those on Main Street in downtown Salem.
There will probably be a traffic light at Lynchburg Turnpike and East Main, in front of the Salem Museum, to help traffic coming from the turnpike get onto Main.
At Thompson Memorial Drive heading west, there will be four lanes – one dedicated for left turns and one for right turns.
And sidewalks would tie in with a planned extension of the Hanging Rock Battlefield Trail, so people who live in neighborhoods off Kessler Mill Road and between there and close to Longwood Park can walk to and from the park, to Lakeside Shopping Center and to the Greenway trails.
At least, those are the hopes and dreams.
The hopes for improvements to East Main have been on the drawing boards since 1988-89. The ideas are getting closer to reality, according to city leaders.
“We’re early in the process,” said Salem Assistant City Manager Jay Taliaferro. “Our hope is to have enough funding from Thompson Memorial to Brand (near Berglund Chevrolet) in Phase I,” he said.
An informational meeting on plans for widening and beautifying East Main will be held in early 2014, said Taliaferro. Preliminary estimates for Phase I costs are about $12-13-million, with an overall cost for the whole project of $38 million in federal and state funds, to go the length to Kessler Mill Road. Construction probably wouldn’t start until 2015 or later on the section closer to Thompson Memorial.
Meanwhile, the City of Salem has applied for an alternative transportation grant of just under $1 million to extend the trail.
“We certainly hope the improvements are going to enhance property values on East Main Street and open up that corridor,” said Taliaferro.
Streetscaping – today’s term for landscaping along streets – should make East Main a nicer corridor, Planner Ben Tripp said, and the planned trail and other possible extensions along Main Street will make it easier for people to walk and bike along Main.
“Any time you can encourage pedestrians to go into and buy something from a store is a good thing. This should increase pedestrian traffic,” Tripp explained.
“There’s growing evidence that these types of bicycle and pedestrian road improvements aid economic development,” Tripp added.
There aren’t pedestrian counts yet on the existing Hanging Rock Trail, but there are for the Roanoke River Greenway in Salem, from Rt. 419 at Salem Rotary Park, along Riverside Drive and to Eddy Street at Moyer Park: a whopping 40,000 users a year, Tripp said. That’s an actual count, using a laser beam counter on the trail.
The existing Hanging Rock Trail is 1.7 miles, and it’s cinders or “Class B” surface treating.
The portion of trail along East Main Street that shows on the concept plan would look more like a trail in portions, “but it might be asphalt in front of Berglund Chevrolet, and like sidewalk closer to downtown Salem,” Taliaferro said.
The city’s application for the trail extension will go before the Commonwealth Transportation Board in the spring, most likely.