I-73 was identified by the U.S. Congress as a high priority corridor in the federal transportation funding bill of 1991, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Act (ISTEA). It was defined as a north-south corridor from north of Detroit to Charleston, S.C. It began as a grassroots effort by the Bluefield, W. Va., Chamber of Commerce.
In the spring of 2001, members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board decided to build I-73 in Virginia and selected a location for the road. Since that time, work continues to complete required environmental documentation and to gain approval of the project from the Federal Highway Administration. No timetable for construction has been set, although some funds have been designated for designing plans and construction. In the meantime, VDOT recently completed safety improvements along Route 220, including installation of median guardrail, closing of some crossovers, building turn lanes and installing changeable message signs to provide real-time traffic information to drivers.
HISTORY IN VIRGINIA
VDOT began the I-73 Feasibility Study, launching a full public participation process and performing two economic analyses on 12 variations of seven possible corridors.
To gather public feedback, five citizen information meetings were held in southwestern Virginia, attended by 1,200 citizens. Oral and written comments were collected from citizens, local governments and organizations. The information was used to assess public sentiment and became part of the study report.
Corridor study completed by VDOT. To prioritize the corridors, factors such as public support, economic impact, environmental impact, traffic service and cost were used.
Rated first in terms of public support and economic impact was Alternative 6A, a five to seven-mile-wide corridor following Route 460 from West Virginia through Giles County into Montgomery County, where it picks up the proposed Blacksburg/Roanoke Connector (Smart Road) to Route 220 south of Roanoke and into North Carolina.
Existing I-77, called Alternative 3A, ranked first in traffic service and second in cost and environmental impact.
Commonwealth Transportation Board chose 6A as Virginia's preferred corridor. The board's decision was based, in part, on two studies showing that the 460/220 route would provide the most economic benefit.
The Virginia Employment Commission study estimated more than 5,000 jobs would be created compared to 49 jobs along the competing I-77 corridor.
A second, more exhaustive analysis based on a broader measure of economic activity was conducted by the Transportation Research Council. The Route 460/220 corridor far surpassed the others in increasing overall taxable sales and adjusted gross income.
Responding to requests from Roanoke, Salem and Roanoke County, the Commonwealth Transportation Board refined its corridor for I-73 to include interstates 81 and 581. The refined corridor presents opportunities for economic development in the Roanoke Valley and to enhance intermodal connections with the Roanoke Regional Airport.
President Clinton signed transportation legislation creating the new National Highway System (National Highway System Designation Act), required by ISTEA. The NHS includes Virginia's preferred corridor for I-73.
Commonwealth Transportation Board approved 1996-97 Six-Year Construction Plan, which includes $6 million in preliminary engineering funding to perform environmental studies and select a location for the highway between Roanoke and the North Carolina state line. The total cost of planning is estimated at $10 million.
Virginia Transportation Secretary Robert Martinez visited Roanoke to present a ceremonial check for $6 million to the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, representing the start of preliminary engineering on I-73 from Roanoke to North Carolina.
I-73 Study Team (VDOT and its consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff) launches I-73 Location Study, and public participation begins. The location study looks at a wide corridor between Roanoke and North Carolina. Traffic data, aerial surveys, topographic maps, environmental factors and public input are used to develop several narrower corridors, or possible locations, for I-73. The goal of the study is to find a location for I-73 that will provide convenience for the traveling public, be safe, be economical to build and maintain, and do the least harm to the environment and communities. A “no build” option also is studied. All environmental laws are followed in conducting the study.
VDOT holds public participation meetings throughout corridor.
VDOT holds second round of public participation meetings.
Draft Environmental Impact Statement completed, outlining purpose and need for project as well as several possible build locations and an evaluation of the “no build” option.
Public hearings on contents of the DEIS are held throughout corridor.
Commonwealth Transportation Board selects “build” alternative and chooses location for I-73 in Virginia.
CTB refines southern end of selected location. Work on Final Environmental Impact Statement gets under way.
The Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places determines that the “Southeast Roanoke Neighborhood” in Roanoke is eligible for historic designation. As a result, the Federal Highway Administration informs VDOT that another section of I-73 through Roanoke must be chosen to avoid the neighborhood. Federal regulations prohibit the development of federally funded projects through historic sites if other feasible alternatives exist. The I-73 DEIS documented historic sites and cultural resources throughout the I-73 corridor. At the time of its completion, officials with Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources, FHWA and VDOT did not consider the Roanoke neighborhood historically significant. A local group challenged the opinion, and the issue was presented to the Keeper of the National Register for a final determination.
Two public meetings hosted by VDOT are held to inform citizens of the proposed location change through Roanoke, Roanoke County and northern Franklin County and to obtain feedback on the change.
CTB votes to re-route a 12-mile section of the I-73 corridor through Roanoke, Roanoke County and northern Franklin County. The route was altered to avoid a neighborhood in southeast Roanoke that was determined to be eligible for historic designation. The new routing for I-73 begins at Elm Avenue in Roanoke and continues south along existing Route 220 into the Clearbrook area of Roanoke County. The route then veers southeast of Buck Mountain along Route 657 into Franklin County, where it rejoins the original corridor. No other section of the 70-mile corridor is affected by the change. For a more detailed view of the route for I-73, click on the map to the right.
VDOT completes the Final Environmental Impact Statement and submits the document to FHWA for a possible Record of Decision.
FHWA issues a Record of Decision, authorizing VDOT to proceed with design work.
VDOT will work with local, state and national elected officials to identify segments for initial designs. I-73 in Virginia will reflect a “context sensitive solution” design wherever possible. As defined by the Federal Highway Administration, context sensitive solutions involve affected citizens, officials, business and property owners and others in developing “a transportation facility that fits its physical setting and preserves scenic, aesthetic, historic and environmental resources, while maintaining safety and mobility.”