Motorists travel southbound on Powhite Parkway in Chesterfield
The extension of Powhite Parkway to Hull Street Road has been on Chesterfield County’s thoroughfare plan since 1989, but the project’s cost – currently estimated at about $700 million – has thwarted the local government’s efforts to make it anything more than a dotted line on a map.
Now Chesterfield has its best opportunity yet to fund construction of the road, without tolls or tax increases, through development of the Upper Magnolia Green West site as a technology village.
If the Board of Supervisors approves rezoning of the 1,700-acre property, Chesterfield Economic Development intends to market it to companies in advanced manufacturing, research and development and other technology-rich sectors. Its plan is to create a high-tech campus and attract both significant capital investment and high-paying jobs.
Because of Chesterfield’s location and access to a deep pool of prospective workers, site consultants and state economic development leaders agree the property (with planned infrastructure improvements) will be a strong competitor for the type of major commercial projects that have eluded Virginia in recent years.
According to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the state has lost out on 47,000 direct jobs and over $115 billion in capital investment since 2016 because of a lack of large, shovel-ready sites.
Former Gov. Ralph Northam proposed $150 million in the state’s fiscal year 2023 budget to help communities develop such properties through the Virginia Business Ready Sites program. His successor, Gov. Glenn Youngkin, recently requested additional funding for the program, while announcing the state’s intention to aggressively pursue economic development projects.
“We’ll be seeking help from the state and whoever else will give it to us to accomplish the infrastructure development [for Upper Magnolia Green West], provided the property is rezoned,” said Garrett Hart, the county’s economic development director, in a Jan. 18 presentation to the Chesterfield Planning Commission.
Hart is confident state officials will “come forward with enough money” to construct the entire Powhite Extension and bring the desired capital investment and jobs to Upper Magnolia Green West.
Rezoning and development of the property “can’t do anything but help that math work,” he added.
Such an investment from Virginia wouldn’t be unprecedented. Other states have made much larger financial commitments and installed the infrastructure necessary to secure major economic development projects.
The ancillary benefit to thousands of western Chesterfield residents, however, would be immense.
Due to rapid population growth over the past decade, mitigating congestion in the Route 360 corridor and 360/288 interchange has been identified as the county’s top transportation priority.
Along with the planned Bailey Bridge Connector and extension of Woolridge Road to Route 288, the Powhite Extension is part of an effort to incrementally reduce traffic volume on Hull Street Road by creating opportunities for motorists to bypass it altogether.
“We understand this is a heavily traveled corridor and we’re trying to be responsive to the data we have,” said Brent Epps, director of the Chesterfield Department of Transportation (CDOT). “There are some folks who currently don’t have any other choice [but to travel through the 360/288 interchange] and we want to give them some options.”
The county already owns most of the right-of-way needed to extend Powhite Parkway, which is expected to bisect the Upper Magnolia Green property from north to south and connect with Route 360 west of the Magnolia Green subdivision.
The Board of Supervisors also has approved the allocation of $27.7 million in fuel and sales taxes, collected and administered by the Central Virginia Transportation Authority, toward construction of the first phase of the Powhite Extension.
The 2.25-mile project will widen the last existing section of Powhite Parkway from two to four lanes, extend it from Little Tomahawk Creek to Woolridge Road, create an interchange at Charter Colony Parkway and construct overpasses on Brandermill and Watermill parkways.
CDOT is “going forward on Phase I of the extension,” Epps said. “If for some reason [Economic Development] beats us – if they move quickly and want to build the whole thing – we’re going to let them.”
While Hart has proposed initially constructing a two-lane section of the Powhite Extension from Route 360 to the Upper Magnolia Green West site, as part of a phasing plan to accommodate infrastructure construction, Epps envisions “no scenario” in which the 1,700-acre property can be developed as an employment center without the completed four-lane roadway in place.
Epps also acknowledged “it would take us two lifetimes” to fund a $700 million project solely through Virginia’s SmartScale system for scoring and ranking transportation funding requests.
By unlocking Upper Magnolia Green’s economic development potential, county officials think they can shorten that timetable considerably.