Colonial Parkway Reconstruction Fact Sheet

The colonial Parkway in spring time winding under an arched brick bridge
A typical view along the Colonial Parkway

NPS Photo

Project Description. The views along the Colonial Parkway continue to inspire, but the Parkway, built between 1931 and 1957, is rated “poor” or “fair” for 87% of its 23 miles. The50- year design life expired a generation ago for much of the Parkway. Major rehabilitation and reconstruction are essential to preserve this scenic and historic drive. The historic Parkway is an icon of the National Park Service (NPS) road network and a primary visitor experience linking major historic sites of the Colonial National Historical Park.

Project Background. Planned and designed during the 1930s, the Colonial Parkway embodies the characteristics of the modern parkway. Its curving alignments, limited access, pleasurable driving experience, and use of designed plantings and park-like features remain intact today. Designations include “All-American Road” (FHWA National Scenic Byway Program), a prestigious Centennial Medallion of the American Society of Landscape Architects as “one of the finest parkway archetypes in the country,” and a listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Designers and landscape architects from the NPS and the Bureau of Public Roads linked three historically significant sites (the Historic Triangle) of the early Colonial Period. The 23-mile Parkway connects Historic Jamestown (the first English settlement in 1607), through Colonial Williamsburg, to the Yorktown Battlefields where Cornwallis surrendered to Washington in 1781, effectively ending the Revolutionary War.

Current Status. Built between 1931 and 1957, construction stopped and started due to problems with funding, land acquisition, routing around (and under) Williamsburg, World War II, and the Korean War monuments. Construction projects have continued to the present, with minor construction and repair projects documented in each decade following the 1950s.

Today, the exposed aggregate concrete surface still reminds drivers of the dirt roads of a by-gone era. But the road, initially designed for leisure driving, is under constant assault. The Parkway has become an important local commuter route; the busiest sections carry over 4 million vehicles per year and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) predicts a traffic increase of nearly 50% over the next 20 years. Most significantly, tour buses pound the concrete with a size, weight, and frequency that no designer in the 1930s could have imagined.

Settled and broken slabs, failed joints, severe concrete spalling, and a checkerboard of asphalt patches adversely affect the structural integrity, the comfort of the ride, and the historic aesthetics of the Parkway.
Asphalt patches checkerboard the parkway
Asphalt patches checkerboard the Parkway
Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Needs. The NPS and FHWA completed a study in 2014 that evaluated causes of pavement deterioration, and proposed a plan to save as much of the historic fabric as feasible. Major sections of the Parkway require complete reconstruction, including the heavily damaged section at Williamsburg Circle and the temporary asphalt section at Jamestown. Reconstructed sections will require structural improvements using geotechnical or other methods. Many of the sections in good condition can be retained if drainage issues are quickly resolved and joints are sealed to protect the pavement from future damage.

Drainage improvements are an essential part of this mega-project. Over the past 80 years, commercial and residential developments just outside the narrow Park buffer zones have adversely affected the Parkway. This growth has significantly increased not only traffic loads, but storm runoff as well. This has overloaded numerous existing drainage systems.

Surface drainage, drop inlets, and culverts require repair, replacement, or enlargement at many locations. Approximately 47% of culverts have performance problems and/or are undersized for the current conditions. Further, storm and tidal erosion threaten collapse of the Parkway in areas where it skirts along the York and James River shorelines. Five bridge structures must be lengthened and/or raised and some bridge abutments need to be protected.
Edge Failure, Patch failure, and curb failure on the Parkway
Edge failure, patch failure, and curb failure, joint sealant failure, cracked slab, slab settlement in high bus traffic area.
Projected Cost and Phasing. The first priority is to complete critical preservation work in an effort to save as much of the historic fabric as practical.

The third of three phases to reseal joints and repair concrete spalls will begin in October of 2018. The second priority is to upgrade drainage and correct performance problems in areas where the concrete slabs are still considered to be in good condition.

A BUILD grant application was submitted with the Town of Williamsburg in 2018 to address significant pavement damage and several critical drainage problems at the Williamsburg Circle and the tunnel.

An application for funds from the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects (NSFLTP) program is prepared for submittal along with complete environmental compliance documents.

The Williamsburg Circle area carries some of the highest traffic loads from tour buses and commuters which could spread the pavement damage to surrounding areas, drastically increasing the cost over the next five years.

Phasing was developed using the philosophy of protecting pavement in good condition first and reconstructing the pavements in poor condition based on a “worst-first” prioritization.
Joint failure and slab cracking lead to water infiltration, pumping, and ultimate failure.
Typical failed slab in high bus traffic area. Joint failure and slab cracking lead to water infiltration, pumping, and ultimate failure.
A phasing study has been completed that divided the total parkway work into 10 segments. The nature of the work and the detailed information already available make the phasing adjustable to meet funds available, unexpected changes in condition, and traffic control requirements.

This mega-project will preserve a failing historic Parkway and significant commuter route for the use and enjoyment by local residents and visitors from around the world.

Last updated: November 5, 2018