by James A. Bacon
The developer of the West Broad Marketplace, which will bring a Wegmans grocery store and outdoor gear retailer Cabela’s to western Henrico County, promises Richmonders a shopping treat that “I don’t think you’ve experienced before.” That may be true. Unfortunately, Jack Waghorn, president of Vienna-based NVRetail, will replicate the experience of driving through traffic-clogged thoroughfares and parking in vast, open-air parking lots that Richmonders will find all too familiar.
The Henrico Wegman’s is scheduled to open in mid-2016, with a counterpart in Chesterfield County opening around the same time. Henrico County officials were on hand for a ground-breaking yesterday. No doubt county leaders are pleased that Henrico citizens will have access to the popular, high-end grocery store, not to mention the tax revenues generated by the store and the 550 to 600 full- and part-time jobs created.
As can be seen in the artist’s rendering above, however, West Broad Marketplace will perpetuate the dysfunctional low-density land use patterns of post World War II sprawl that has already made the Short Pump area a congested hell hole. I avoid going there if at all possible, and others do, too, although sometimes they have no choice because that’s where the region’s upscale stores are concentrated. Driving in and around Short Pump is always a dismal experience. When I visited one time last month to do some Christmas shopping, traffic was so gridlocked that cars were backed up onto I-64, causing a slowdown on the Interstate. That may sound banal to Northern Virginians but it’s unprecedented for the Richmond region.
The traffic congestion in Short Pump is the foreseeable consequence of zoning for mile after mile of single-use shopping-center development around the intersection of Interstates 64 and 295. Planners allowed for no other connectivity: shopping centers don’t connect with each other, much less with nearby residential neighborhoods. There are no side streets to divert traffic. All cars pile onto West Broad Street. The area is utterly unwalkable — visitors have no choice but to drive their cars from destination to destination, adding to the congestion — and there is no mass transit.
The county will never have enough money to build its way out of this mess. Indeed, the problem is so bad that congestion is radiating out from the Short Pump area to places, like the Innsbrook commercial park, where traffic conditions once were tolerable. At some point, I predict, conditions will become so atrocious that — Wegmans or no Wegmans — affluent households, corporate offices and high-end retailers will seek somewhere else in the Richmond region to locate. When the 30-year amortization of all those commercial buildings expires, retailers will pack up and follow. Once the newness wears off, there’s nothing to keep anyone there.