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As talk stirs again over plans for a Henrico County interchange, area businesses that could be forced to move say they'll believe it when they see it.

Patterson Express

Business owners and merchants nestled near the corner of Patterson Avenue and Parham Road in Henrico County aren't budging — yet.

The question is: When will they?

They've heard the rumors before and, for now, the strategy is to stay put.

But recently, the General Assembly, in its one-day veto session, gave the go-ahead to Gov. James Gilmore's proposed $2.6 billion transportation initiative, supporting what has been criticized as a weak link in the administration. It appears that with the groundwork in place, the time is right to get serious about transportation. And while it's unclear whether or not money will soon be appropriated for specific projects like the Patterson and Parham interchange, it's likely such projects could get the green light more quickly than expected.

Pat O'Bannon, Tuckahoe supervisor on the Henrico County Board of Supervisors, hopes renewed discussion of the interchange will prompt action. "We plan to move ahead swiftly," says O'Bannon. "Regionally, it's the number five [transportation] issue. It's number one for Henrico. It took five years to get the funding and five years to get VDOT to consider it as a major project," explains O'Bannon. "Now we're at the stage where the engineering can be done."

Still, says Eric Millirons, a traffic engineer with Henrico County, "it's not going to be tomorrow." Millirons says despite being ranked a priority by the Richmond Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and given a budget of $30 million, the project is still years away from development. "A major design contract would have to be awarded, public hearings must be held, the right of way established," explains Millirons. "For something of this magnitude it could be three to five or even nine years away."

According to Millirons, the project will likely include an urban interchange at Parham and Patterson - an intersection that bears 68,000 vehicles a day and is the worst in the county. Plans call for Parham - along with its traffic signal - to be lifted over Patterson, and traffic heading west or east on Patterson would not be stopped by a light. "It takes out one step and one part of the problem by removing the need for green time," says Millirons. "Everything on Patterson will keep on humming."

In order for the plan to work, an additional 48 feet of pavement is needed on each side of the road. And for businesses like Tropical Treehouse, Century 21, Burger King and others located near or in the Beverly Hills Shopping Center, it means they'll have to find another spot to do business.

But even with the possibility that construction could begin in less than three years, area businesses aren't holding their breath.

They remember the $1 million John Rolfe Highway debacle nearly 10 years ago that failed to win approval from the county's Board of Supervisors to open a much needed artery in Western Henrico. And while they laud the convenience of the Edward E. Willey Bridge, they watch as commuters cut through neighborhoods and clog up residential streets in order to avoid the congested intersection.

And still, area businesses wait for other projects supposedly in the works such as Route 288 and the inevitability, even without Motorola, of West Creek development. So for now, it's business as usual as cars bunch and buzz at the Patterson and Parham intersection like magnetic pieces in a game of tabletop electric football.

"They've been talking about it for a while," says Cindy Reynolds, a manager with Tropical Treehouse. And if any business were nervous about the move it would be the nursery - precisely where the interchange will be — that has occupied the corner for nearly 16 years. "The issue just disappeared for a while and recently I've heard some talking about it. But if they're as slow with this as they are with other projects, I won't hold my breath." Despite the fact that the interchange would mean her business relocating, Reynolds says she supports any plan that addresses the corner's traffic problem. Not only does she work there; she lives in the neighborhood. "It's such a bottleneck, it's like fighting tooth and nail to get anywhere. And then people cut through and come flying through the surrounding neighborhoods," says Reynolds. "It's really bad."

Mark Brook of Wendell Powell Studio, located just south of the intersection on Parham Road, says, "The only concern we have is during the actual period of construction." Although the interchange won't likely force the studio to relocate, the business is likely to feel repercussions. "We are concerned about the entrance access," Brooks says. "What would happen during the construction?" he asks. What's more, Brook concludes, "It would affect the value of our property."

"Location, when it involves real estate, is prime," says Ken Carroll. And he should know. Carroll is a manager with Century 21, located at the intersection's southwest corner. "We know [the interchange] is coming, but we don't have any plans," concedes Carroll, adding the real-estate company has been at the corner for 20 years. Still, Carroll musters optimism. "We could outgrow this building in three years and it could be someone else's concern."

The intersection is a concern that Henrico's Millirons says the county transportation department, the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Henrico County Board of Supervisors have tried, with limited success, to address for years. Roughly 68,000 vehicles pass daily through the intersection, and that number is expected to increase significantly with the county's continued growth. And for Millirons, the result is simple. "There's going to be havoc at Parham and Patterson."

Still, businesses don't feel pressure to look for new locations. And Tamara Neale with the VDOT public affairs office says that's understandable. "At this point, nothing is designed yet," she acknowledges. And $30 million is only enough to get it started. Studies suggest a project like this - where businesses are displaced and additional right of way must be purchased — could take up to $50 million to complete. "It involves acquiring land, and that takes time and is expensive. And until we have the funding, we can't get the ball