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HILLSVILLE — Early traffic reports along U.S. 58 at Hillsville on Labor Day weekend will tell motorists on the way to the massive flea market and gun show to expect delays.
Because of the effect of U.S. 58 bypass construction on roads and traffic patterns, state and local officials have already started preparing for the large number of visitors that come to town for the summer event, police Chief Steve Williams told Hillsville Town Council members at their May 12 meeting.
Estimates of attendance vary widely at the Labor Day Gun Show and Flea Market, but it’s generally accepted that at least 300,000 people come to town over those four days.
Williams described a recent meeting with officials from Virginia Department of Transportation, Virginia State Police, contractor Branch Highways and more to see what steps could be taken to deal with the construction and traffic flow.
Howlett Street is closed for construction — cut in half, Williams said — which takes out an alternative route that motorists could have used instead of the highway.
U.S. 58 has been changed from four lanes to two — one each for east- and westbound traffic — just west of the town proper.
That eliminates a lot of room where traffic would normally stack up while coming into Hillsville, Williams said. That also means that there will be no parking along that section of 58, come flea market time.
State troopers will concentrate their efforts around the Interstate 77 area, because of the potential for backups over there, Williams said. Carroll Sheriff Warren Manning has agreed for his deputies to handle an intersection that the state troopers had patrolled in the past.
Message boards and radio signals will go out to try and warn motorists coming into town, but even before that officials are going to try to get the word out over a wide area, the chief said.
That includes information and maps from a media representative from VDOT for all organizations involved — like the Grover King Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1115, flea market central — to post on their websites.
“We're hoping that we can get the town, the VFW and everybody that has anything to do with the flea market to post the same information, so hopefully people that are coming will look at those and it will eliminate some of those things," Williams said.
Media representatives will reach out to television markets in Roanoke, Bristol and Winston-Salem, N.C., to get that done. He expects the campaign to start in July.
"We know we're going to have more problems than normal. We hope that people will, first of all, be patient with us,” he said.
Williams wanted to assure town officials that people are working on this issue.
Williams noted that the bridge on U.S. 52 at the Hillsville corporate limits will be replaced. That will require closing the main north-south traffic artery through town for an estimated three or four months.
“I don’t know if I need to say anything,” he said.
Local officials were afraid that was going to happen before the flea market, but VDOT has said the project hasn’t been set yet.
Asked about the media campaign by Mayor Randall Gravley, Williams elaborated.
"The main thing is that they're going to let people knowee is there is a lot of construction, there's changes in traffic patterns,” he said.
People are used to turning on Howlett Street. Huge signs will be put up to let people know that that Howlett is no longer a through street.
The campaign will “encourage people to come on and come but just be careful which route you take, be patient and expect delays."
And Branch is going to shut down its work on both Labor Day and Memorial Day weekends, he added.
Officials will continue to pay attention to this matter, Williams said.