RELEASE: IMMEDIATE SALEM 155
CONTACT: Laura Bullock
Chooses Location East of Martinsville
In a landmark decision for Virginia, the 17 citizen members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board voted today to build Interstate 73. The new road in southwest Virginia will be built in a location touted to improve the safety of existing Route 220 south of Roanoke and enhance economic development potential throughout the corridor.
The board selected a location that overlaps I-581 in Roanoke to Elm Avenue, then veers to the southeast and enters Franklin County near Coopers Cove, travels east of Rocky Mount into Henry County and stays east of Martinsville, before turning slightly and entering North Carolina southwest of Ridgeway.
Board members also elected to build a connector road from existing Route 220 near Route 668 east of Buck Mountain in Roanoke County to the I-73 corridor near Route 657 west of Kennett in Franklin County.
The decision to build I-73 follows nearly four years of intensive environmental study and an unprecedented public participation program undertaken by VDOT. Choices weighed by the transportation board included not building the road at all, making lower cost "spot" improvements to Route 220 south of Roanoke, and/or building a new interstate. The board opted for building a new road mostly on new location. I-581 will need modifications to function as I-73.
The selected corridor is about 66.5 miles long, and its construction cost is estimated to be $1.23 billion in today's dollars. Approximately 506 homes, 42 businesses and one non-profit organization may be affected by the road's path.
In making the decision, board members factored in public opinion; preferences of local and elected officials representing counties, cities and towns in the 70-mile-long study area; environmental impact; effects to existing homes and businesses; and current safety conditions on Route 220.
They also looked at the purpose and need for the I-73 Location Study, as outlined in the study. Needs included improving system linkage and intermodal connections, as well as improving corridor safety, mobility and capacity. Another need for the road notes the potential for enhancing economic opportunities for attracting new industry and tourism.
Specifically, the location for I-73 follows these segments of build options described earlier by VDOT engineers: from Roanoke to North Carolina - segments 374, 376, 287A, 399, 400, 153, 326B, 326, 387, 329, 373, 391, 390, 349, 393 and 398.
I-73 was written into federal transportation legislation in 1991 by the U.S. Congress, which identified a missing north-south link in the interstate system between Michigan and South Carolina. Federal and state officials conferred on where the road's path would enter each state but left its exact location to the states. In 1994, the Commonwealth Transportation Board chose a corridor for I-73 in Virginia that generally follows Route 460 from West Virginia through Giles and Montgomery counties to the Smart Road near Blacksburg to I-81, I-581 and in the vicinity of Route 220 south of Roanoke.
In 1996, the transportation board allotted $6 million for the I-73 Location Study, an in-depth environmental analysis of the selected corridor. In late October of 2000, the product of the location study, a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, was approved by the Federal Highway Administration. Public hearings were held Dec. 11-14, 2000, in Martinsville, Rocky Mount and Roanoke.
More than 2,330 citizens attended the public hearings. VDOT received comments and suggestions on the DEIS and the study from 8,669 citizens. When asked which alternative best fulfilled the need of the study - no build, spot improvements to Route 220, or new road - 3,292 citizens answered new road, 2,839 opted for spot improvements, and 2,991 said no build.
In response to a question asking citizens to cite benefits and concerns about the I-73 Location Study, 1,432 people commented on economic benefit; 754 were concerned about traffic; 309 mentioned a need for transit; and 1,185 said safety was a concern on existing Route 220.
VDOT engineers recommended to the board that a building a new road would best meet the purpose and need of the I-73 Location Study. Board members agreed and adopted an alignment that improves safety on existing Route 220 by removing through traffic, such as trucks and doublewide trailers, from local traffic, such as school buses and farm vehicles. The chosen route also provides stronger intermodal linkage to the Roanoke Regional Airport and points south.
In addition, the path for I-73, by veering to the southeast around Mill Mountain south of Roanoke, avoids severe impact that would have resulted to Route 220 near the Tanglewood Mall and Clearbrook areas as well as to Route 419/Starkey Road in Roanoke County if other options had been selected.
Another factor in choosing a path for I-73 was the Blue Ridge Parkway. Building I-73 anywhere in the Roanoke Valley would necessitate crossing the parkway, a national treasure and part of the National Park Service. The selected path for I-73 allows for a crossing of the parkway that is acceptable to the park service.
South of Roanoke, the location for I-73 runs east of Rocky Mount through Franklin County. This alignment provides a direct link between Franklin County and the Roanoke Valley, supports growth east of Rocky Mount, and provides access from Route 40 to the north and south.
I-73 enters Henry County east of Oak Level, passes to the west of Figsboro, continues to the east of Laurel Park, turns to the southwest south of Carlisle, passes to the south of the Martinsville Speedway, and continues to the south where it enters North Carolina southwest of Ridgeway.
Following the board's action, the EIS will be finalized with specific information about the selected corridor. The Final EIS is then forwarded to the Federal Highway Administration for consideration and/or approval. Completion of the FEIS and approval by FHWA may take up to a year. Once FHWA issues its approval - called a Record of Decision - final design, right of way acquisition and construction can begin.
Environmental evaluation and early planning has not started for any other section of I-73 in Virginia.
Questions about the approved location for I-73 can be directed to VDOT's Salem District Office firstname.lastname@example.org. A Web site is available at www.vdot.state.va.us.