VDOT SAYS NO FOUR-LANE THROUGH MT. ROGERS NATIONAL RECREATION AREA
NEW ALTERNATIVE TO BE DEVELOPED
The Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), citing opposition from environmental groups and the U.S. Forest Service, is backing off its plan to reroute and make four-lane U.S. 58 through the middle of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area (MRNRA) in southwest Virginia.
During a CTB work session held on May 8, the Virginia Dept. of Transportation (VDOT) acknowledged the "probability of eventually obtaining approvals to construct along this corridor are extremely unlikely." VDOT stated that after selecting Alternative 2A, "we began to receive notices of organized and widespread opposition to the decision."
The Department will, instead, focus on safety improvements to existing two-lane roads such as state Route 16 and U.S. 58 through the MRNRA. This alternative will create a safer two-lane highway system primarily utilizing existing alignments.
A resolution passed by the CTB at its voting session on May 9 instructs VDOT to "convene a group of county officials within the study area and other interested stakeholders as determined by the Department to discuss opportunities for improving Routes 58 and 16 along the existing roadways in the study area and to further evaluate a package of potential opportunities for improvements to Routes 58 and 16."
VDOT Chief Engineer James Browder's recommendation was that "the alternatives to be considered in the study would not include the previously selected corridor 2A."
In 1992, a previous Board approved Alternative 2A, a four-lane super highway that would have bisected the 154,000 acres of the MRNRA destroying the popular Hurricane Campground and following a mile of the Appalachian Trail.
Virginia Transportation Secretary Robert Martinez said, "We can either bang our head against the wall forever . . . or adopt a different approach." At the CTB work session, Martinez commented there will be no four-lane through the MRNRA.
Quoted by a local television station, Martinez said, "Personally I don't think it's justified to ruin that area with that kind of facility."
Mountain Heritage Alliance (MHA) Chairman Tom Davenport said, "Martinez has taken a bold leadership move and we feel a heightened sense of responsibility to make this alternative work. This alternative would better serve local transportation needs while preserving the integrity of the MRNRA and protecting our concerns with the natural environment."
For four years, MHA has coordinated local, regional, and national efforts to overturn the CTB decision to construct a four-lane U.S. 58 through the MRNRA. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) has assisted and represented MHA on this matter. These efforts along with the assistance of many environmental groups and activists nationwide have apparently paid off.
SELC Staff Attorney Kay Slaughter said, "VDOT is taking a sensible and reasonable approach not to waste scared funds on an environmentally destructive and costly road."
Slaughter said, "We are very pleased that VDOT has gone through the formal process to drop the four-lane road through Mt. Rogers. This has been a long and tedious battle but one that has paid off; both the Forest Service and VDOT are to be commended for responding proactively to legitimate citizen concerns."
In August of 1994, the U.S. Forest Service initiated a public scoping of the VDOT four-lane proposal. The Forest Service received more than a thousand responses with only eleven respondents in favor of Alternative 2A. This overwhelming opposition to the project has been essential in changing VDOT's plan.
Martinez has already met with officials from Smyth, Grayson, and Washington counties about the safety improvements. VDOT suggests meeting with chambers of commerce, business groups, environmental groups and other special interests to solicit input.
VDOT would like to achieve approval of this new course of action by late 1997. The CTB resolution seeks "safe environmentally sound and economically feasible transportation improvements to these routes."
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