History of the Smart Road

The concept for a connecting road from Blacksburg to Interstate 81 can be traced to 1985 and a proposal by the Roanoke-Virginia Tech Advisory Council. In 1986, Roanoke Mayor Noel Taylor endorsed the idea.

In 1987, the Greater Blacksburg and Christiansburg-Montgomery County Chambers of Commerce asked the Virginia Department of Transportation to consider both short- and long-term solutions for traffic congestion along Route 460. That same year, Gov. Gerald Baliles’ Commission for Transportation in the 21st Century identified a new road to serve as a direct link between Virginia’s largest university and southwest Virginia’s largest city.

The next year, VDOT began a study of Route 460 for possible improvements. A milestone was reached in 1989 when Roanoke County Supervisor Dick Robers suggested that the linking road be used for research on "smart" cars and highways.

In 1990, Congressman Rick Boucher asked a congressional committee for funding for a demonstration project - the first smart road to be built from the ground up in the United States. In June of that year, the Commonwealth Transportation Board voted to build a new Route 460 Bypass and also directed VDOT to continue studying the feasibility of a connecting road that would incorporate transportation technology.

The connector was included in VDOT’s 1991-92 Six-Year Improvement Program, and in November 1991, a Federal transportation bill provided $5.9 million for research and planning.

In early 1992, a location for the Smart Road, envisioned as a series of test beds ultimately ending at I-81, was selected by the Commonwealth Transportation Board. VDOT began design, working closely with the Federal Highway Administration and Virginia Tech’s Center for Transportation Research. In 1993, the center was awarded a $3 million Federal grant for research on the Smart Road.

Then, in 1994, Gov. George Allen committed state funding for building the first test bed. Virginia Tech was invited to join a consortium of companies, headed by General Motors, positioning the university as one of the country’s top transportation research institutions.

Design of the Smart Road continued, assisted by a Citizens Advisory Committee. Groundbreaking took place July 8, 1997. Construction on the first 1.7-mile segment of the 5.7-mile road was completed in December 1999. The second phase of construction, including the bridge over Wilson Creek, was completed in 2002. As funds become available, the entire road to I-81 will be designed and built in a series of test beds for research into emerging transportation technology.

Return to the Smart Road project summary page.

Page last modified: Oct. 14, 2012