Plans for Interstate 73 moving forward with environmental study

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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) - The Commonwealth Transportation Board will fund an Environmental Impact Statement to study the Route 220 corridor, a step hailed as a critical step for ultimately building Interstate 73.

State Senator Bill Stanley announced the news Tuesday. According to Stanley, building I-73 will generate significant economic development opportunities for the people who live in Henry County and northward to the US Route 58 bypass.

“We have a long way to go towards constructing I-73, but this EIS is a critical step. We cannot build anything without an environmental permit from the Corps of Engineers and this EIS will head us in that direction. I look forward to working with all interested parties on the EIS to make Route 220 safer and more favorable for economic development efforts in Southside Virginia,” Senator Stanley said.

The Interstate 73 project was announced in the early 1990's. The idea was to build an interstate highway to connect drivers from the North Carolina state line up through Henry, Franklin, and Roanoke counties.

"I just recall it was a long long time ago when I first heard about it so I had forgotten about it really," said Franklin County resident Eunice Holland.

Holland worked in Roanoke when the highway was first announced.

"I thought it would be great because going the interstate the whole way would save time."

But the highway hasn't been built yet.

"It just disappeared you heard nothing else about it," she said.

Interstate 73 Coalition Co-Executive Director John Stirrup says he understands the interstate is a hard sell sometimes because the project has been flatlined for a number of years.

"People say it's been out there for 20 plus years and nothing has happened but I remain very optimistic."

While he understands how people can doubt the project, he says they've seen real progress within the last three years.

"We've raised the profile of it. We have a new governor who supports the road and the concept of the road. He recognizes what it will do for this area, not only in terms of safety improvements because of I-220 but also economic development."

On top of that, he says the environmental study is another sign the project is not stagnant.

"This is real actual work that is being done," said Stirrup.

The study is the first step to get an environmental permit from the Corps of Engineers to build the highway.

"It's a one-two step," he said. "It's like anything, you have to maintain a positive attitude and we actually see real progress moving forward."

Henry County Administrator Tim Hall released a statement saying he is thrilled about the study moving forward.

"This is proof that our efforts to improve the Route 220 Corridor and ultimately build I-73 are paying off. We will continue to work with VDOT on improving other Route 220 segments.”

The study is expected to be completed in 2021.

Roanoke County voted Tuesday to continue their partnership with the I-73 Coalition for another year at the cost of $24,000 a year. It pays for a firm to lobby for the planned interstate that will run through Henry, Franklin, and Roanoke Counties.

Two board of supervisor members voted against the continuation, with one stating he did not think the membership was worth the money.

Stirrup said he is delighted Roanoke County is going to continue on with the coalition.

"Obviously if they had voted against us, it would have sent a very negative message to the other coalition partners and probably would lead to others perhaps dropping out in the future as well. But it's important to remain solidarity on this issue."

The coalition is made up of Roanoke, Franklin, and Henry counties along with the Cities of Martinsville and Roanoke.