HJR 658

Interstate Route 73 Communications Committee

November 11, 1999, Rocky Mount

Current Status

The committee heard an update on the current status of the Interstate 73 project by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and Parsons-Brinckerhoff, consultants to the department. They told the committee that, since the committee's last meeting (October 8, 1998), the I-73 project in Virginia has fallen approximately eight months behind schedule but that the department expected to complete the current "technical and environmental studies" phase in the next two weeks. The next major step will be the preparation of an approximately 300-page draft environmental impact document, detailing the department's findings to date. VDOT hopes to submit this document to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) by January of 2000, with public hearings on proposed locations for the project to follow in the spring of 2000. Depending on the FHA's finding, a final decision on the Virginia portion of the I-73 project should come before the end of 2000. Thereafter, preliminary engineering work could begin, followed by right-of-way acquisition, and actual construction.

In the course of a lengthy question and answer session, the members expressed their surprise and regret that, although projections had been made on the number of new jobs that might result in the fast food, hotel/motel, and general tourist industry as the direct result of the I-73 project, neither VDOT nor the Virginia Employment Commission had done—or planned to do—any studies of the likely impact of the I-73 project on the manufacturing sector of the economy along the Roanoke-Rocky Mount-Martinsville corridor.

Public Hearing

Following a brief recess, the Chairman opened the floor to public comment. The committee heard 17 presentations from elected officials; representatives of local governments, planning and economic development agencies; business and environmental groups; and individual citizens.

Those in support of the I-73 project generally argued that its construction was not only necessary for regional job creation and economic growth, but essential even to preservation of existing jobs and present levels of economic activity. They also touted construction of I-73 as a means of relieving congestion and improving safety on U.S. Route 220, the major highway presently serving the Roanoke-Rocky Mount-Martinsville corridor.

Those opposed to the I-73 project warned of increased air and water pollution and loss of forest, agricultural land, and open green spaces and objected that efforts and resources being spent on increased highway construction could more profitably and beneficially be spent on (i) promoting greater use of intercity buses and railroads and (ii) attracting businesses and industries that are not dependent on highway transportation. Several of these speakers urged improvements to U.S. Route 220, rather than construction of a new highway.

The Honorable Ward L. Armstrong, Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Alan B. Wambold