Interstate Route 73 Communications CommitteeOctober 8, 1998, Martinsville
Chairman Armstrong reviewed his intentions in introducing HJR 153, which created the committee, explaining that he had no intention of "micro-managing" the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), but hoped, rather, to create an informational link between VDOT and the general public. He stated his intention of holding additional committee meetings to accommodate persons who wanted to comment but, because of a lack of time, could not be heard at this first meeting.
The chairmen of the Henry County Board of Supervisors and the Martinsville City Council welcomed the members and expressed their support and the support of their localities for the Interstate Route 73 project. They were joined by a representative of the Franklin County Economic Development Commission and the county administrator of Franklin County, who described the I-73 project as "a vital element of our long-term economic planning."
Local OfficialsThe executive vice president of the Martinsville/Henry County Chamber of Commerce briefed the members of the committee of the genesis of the Interstate Route 73 (I-73) project. He explained that the first concrete steps had been taken in February of 1993, when citizen groups had been formed in North Carolina to lobby for the creation of a new interstate highway to connect the Canadian border in the vicinity of Detroit, Michigan, with the Atlantic coast in the vicinity of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Since that time, Virginia has been "playing catch-up" with its neighbors and emerging pro-I-73 sentiment in the Congress.
The Chamber of Commerce official pointed out that, though Henry County in 1994 had the highest percentage of population engaged in manufacturing of any county in the United States, the local economy was no longer nearly so robust, due, at least in part, to the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Though Martinsville and Henry County remain highly industrialized, the region's economy is in serious decline and badly needs a new interstate highway to facilitate its recovery.
FHA CommentsA Federal Highway Administration official provided the committee with a brief sketch of the history of the Interstate Highway System, pointing out that 1995 federal legislation had made proposed I-73 eligible for addition to the interstate system, even though the system at that time was considered completed. He explained that, because the interstate system has been "completed," there is no longer a separate amount of federal interstate system construction money available to support I-73's construction. If built, I-73 will be funded as a part of the National Highway System, on the basis of an 80/20 federal/state match, instead of the 90/10 match that applied to earlier interstate system construction. Although there might be some financial benefits later to building the proposed highway as part of the interstate system (rather than as merely a National Highway System component constructed to interstate standards), such a prospect was rather speculative.
VDOT StudyVDOT's I-73 project coordinator brought the committee up to date on the department's study in advance of a decision of whether and where to build I-73 in Virginia. The firm of Parsons, Brinkerhoff, Quade, and Douglas, together with their subcontractors, will be serving as the project's prime consultants. She pointed out that VDOT has three goals for this phase of the project: (i) early and continual public involvement, (ii) fair and unbiased study, and (iii) completion of the study on time. This study is expected to last three years, of which 16 months of work have already been completed.
The study will result in one of three recommendations: (i) not to build the facility; (ii) to use "transportation system management" to meet the needs of the region, using largely existing facilities and existing corridors, rather than by building a new facility; or (iii) to construct a new facility at a new location. If the study results in a decision to build a new facility, the next step in the process will be the signing of the project's Environmental Document in May of 1999, followed by a 30-day comment period, a corridor location study, public hearings in June of 1999, and a 10-day opportunity for additional public comment following the hearings. Thereupon all members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board will be provided with a full transcript of the hearings, copies of all public comments, and a summary of both. The VDOT official stressed that the department must and will remain objective in its study, but cautioned that land use planning and development are not VDOT responsibilities. If the Commonwealth Transportation Board decides, on the basis the department's studies and public input, to proceed with construction of the project, a final record of decision will probably be received from the Federal Highway Administration in June of 2000 (assuming funds are available).
FundingVDOT's chief engineer provided the members additional information about project funding. He cautioned that, although funding is in place for preliminary engineering and environmental work (roughly up to the end of the VDOT study timeline), final design of the project will require an additional $50 to $100 million–money that is not presently "in place." Only about $200 million of design money has been committed to this project.
Future ActivitiesThe meeting closed with a unanimous vote by the committee authorizing the chairman to request that the General Assembly extend the committee's mandate for an additional year.
The Honorable Ward L. Armstrong, Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Alan B. Wambold