Dozens attend hearing on Southern Connector study

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Ryan Zehr, supervisor of the Ridgeway District, discusses the Martinsville Southern Connector Study with Lisa Hughes, VDOT resident engineer for the region.

By Brandon Martin

A public hearing on the Martinsville Southern Connector Study U.S. 220 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) attracted an estimated 50 people.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) conducted the hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 1 at Jack Dalton Park.

During the public hearing, residents could see a geographical layout of the areas affected by the proposals Alternative C route, which allows for a new access-controlled alignment west of existing U.S. 220 and east of Magna Vista High School with reconstruction of the Joseph Martin Highway interchange at U.S. 58 and reconstruction of the existing U.S. 220 alignment for approximately 0.5 miles from the North Carolina state line.

Based on the study, Alternative C has been identified in the Draft EIS as the “Preferred Alternative.”

“It meets our established purpose and need and best balances cost and impact,” Angel Aymond, the project lead, said.

Ryan Zehr, who represents the Ridgeway District on the Henry County Board of Supervisors, was interested in a map of the proposed route because it would run through his district.

“It’s going to miss the Washburn farm altogether it looks like,” Zehr said, pointing to the map. “This is none of the industrial buildings. That’s good. That should make people happy, right? Are they planning on any interchanges around Magna Vista,” Zehr asked.

“It’s not showing any right now,” Lisa Hughes, VDOT resident engineer, said.

“So, it stays pretty much the same as what it was,” Zehr said. “I was fine with anyone of the originals (proposals), but this should make people happy. You’re never going to make everyone happy. Someone is always going to be upset.”

However, he added the favored route “I don’t think is going to make anybody upset unless they own land and want to do something with it.”

The modified route for Alternative C of the Martinsville Southern Connector Study.

In addition, Alternative C was identified as the preliminary Least Environmentally-Damaging Preferred Alternative (LEDPA) based on concurrence from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Environmental Protection Agency. According to the study, USACE can only provide permit authorization of the LEDPA. Although USACE’s formal identification of the LEDPA is a determination made as part of a permit decision, the preliminary determination that the Preferred Alternative appears to be the LEDPA will allow the study to advance to the permitting stage in the Final EIS.

The total costs of the alternatives range from $615,910,000 to $757,340,000, with Alternative C being the cheapest.

The study also considered Alternatives A and B, as well as a “no-build” option.

Alternative A proposed a new access-controlled alignment west of existing U.S. 220 with a new interchange with U.S. 58 to the west of Joseph Martin Highway and reconstruction of the existing U.S. 220 alignment for approximately 0.5 miles from the North Carolina state line.

Alternative B offered a new access-controlled alignment west of existing U.S. 220 and west of Magna Vista High School, with reconstruction of the Joseph Martin Highway interchange at U.S. 58 and reconstruction of the existing U.S. 220 alignment for approximately 0.5 miles from the North Carolina state line.

Aymond said the study was initiated in early 2018 to look for ways to enhance mobility for both local and regional traffic traveling along U.S. 220, between the North Carolina state line and U.S. 58, near the City of Martinsville.

“In August of 2018, it received a designation under the One Federal Decision Executive Order,” Aymond said, adding that since the study was already underway at the time of the executive order, “instead of being required to complete it in two years, we were just held to our original schedule, which is about a three-year schedule.

The study addresses ways to accommodate regional and local traffic, as well as geometric deficiencies and inconsistencies.

The study showed that there are current inconsistencies for regional traffic in access, travel speeds, and corridor composition along U.S. 220 that inhibits mobility and creates unsafe conditions, considering the high volume of truck and personal vehicle traffic traveling to origins and destinations north and south of the study area.

The study found there are numerous, uncontrolled access configurations along U.S. 220 for local traffic, combined with high through traffic movement, which creates traffic delays and contributes to high-crash rates for travelers accessing residences, commercial buildings, and schools.

The study was to address inconsistencies like lane widths, horizontal curves, and stopping sight distances, which are below current design standards and vary along the length of the corridor, resulting in safety concerns for all users.

“Generally, with these things, we just kind of let the data speak to us,” Aymond said. “We’ve been getting public and regulatory agency feedback every step of the way. Agencies concur on the methodology for the studies so we try to get that worked out at the beginning so any questions on the data that we are getting can be resolved.”

Following an opportunity for the public to review and provide comments on the Draft EIS, the Federal Highway Administration and VDOT will work with the cooperating and participating Agencies to determine if additional refinements to the Preferred Alternative should be incorporated into the Final EIS and permit applications.

“This is a planning-level study only,” Aymond said. “The lines that they see on the map today could be further minimized to avoid impacts to resources and properties, even more than we’ve already done to date. We are accepting public input until Sept. 11, for our draft environmental impact statement.

“We should receive our record of decision from the Federal Highway Administration by February 2021. That will close out the study process,” she added.