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Is Interstate 73 dead in Virginia?

Maybe ....Maybe Not...It really depends on who you talk to.

Earlier this week, Ronald “Skip” Ressel Jr., who is the president of the I-73 Committee in Martinsville and Henry County, claimed that the I-73 project was over.  In a story from the Martinsville Bulletin, Ressel told the Henry County Board of Commissioners that I-73 no longer has plans to run through Henry County.  He told the commissioners that "the time has come to give up on this dream." 

But is it?

In the same article, Mr. Ressel mentions that a new corridor similar to I-73 could be built by and maintained by the state.  Well, no matter what type of road that is built along the I-73 corridor, it would be built and maintained by the state.  (Unless it is a private toll road - totally different subject).  Mr. Ressel also alludes to the $8.5 million reserved for the I-73 corridor and not having it go to waste.  Indeed, there has been about $12.5 million set aside from congressional earmarks for I-73 that hasn't been spent.  Specifically, $6 million for construction and another $4 million for preliminary engineering.   The Commonwealth of Virginia also contributed 25 percent or $2.5 million as part of their required match.  I'm guessing Mr. Russel's $8.5 million is a combination of the $6 million for construction and the $2.5 Commonwealth contribution. 

Now, I haven't been able to blog as much as I used to, but the driving force behind I-73 in Martinsville and Henry County has been economic development and a business park known as the Patriot Centre.  The Patriot Centre was the impetus for the "Henry County Alternative" which shifted the approved routing of I-73 to the west and closer to Martinsville. 

Countering Mr. Ressel's I-73 white flag is Virginia Senator Bill Stanley who wrote a letter to the Martinsville Bulletin to stress that the goal of building and completing Interstate 73 from Roanoke south to the NC line is still a reality.  He noted that there is a September deadline to determine how to spend the nearly one decade old earmarks.  He mentions that part of the reason the funds have not been used is requirement by the US Army Corps of Engineers to study US 220 alternatives.  He also mentioned how there is efforts in the Virginia Legislature to continue to study and fund Interstate 73 within the state. Senator Stanley did say that if the money can't be used for I-73 right away, it can be used for safety and other improvements along US 220 - which I-73 will roughly parallel to the east.

So depending on who you talk to I-73 is dead or trying to age like a fine wine.  For Mr. Ressel, any construction on the highway is progress desperately needed and the September deadline and no other money dedicated means well it's done.  To Senator Stanley, this is a small bump in the road while the overall plan and funding mechanisms come together.  It's a little bit of both - Interstate 73 in Virginia isn't going to see any activity for most likely the next decade (or longer) but the door isn't closed.  It may be to the interests of Mr. Ressel and the Henry County Board of Commissioners but to others they are working on a Plan B. 

Mr. Ressel hinted that another corridor - possibly following a different route - could be built.  In other words, he just wants something anything built.  But $8.5 million won't really build anything.  I am sure if Henry County had their way - they'd at a minimum have a spur running north from the eastern end of the US 58 freeway to the exit that would connect to the Patriot Centre.  Or another possibility would be to build the 73 corridor south towards Route 87 and Ridgeway and eventually connecting to US 220 at the North Carolina State Line.  However, the $8.5 million will not build much.  If there is any approval from the Army Corps of Engineers - the money could go to a small grading contract but even that small sign of progress will not be enough for those in South Central Virginia eagerly awaiting this highway.

Story Links:
County supervisors told I-73 project appears to be over - Martinsville Bulletin
Virginia Senator: I-73 effort alive in region - Martinsville Bulletin

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