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VDOT public hearing on U.S. 220 project shows a different side of highway safety

VDOT public hearing on U.S. 220 project shows a different side of highway safety

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — About 50 people attended a socially distanced public hearing Tuesday at Jack Dalton Park to discuss the Martinsville Southern Connector study with representatives from the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The purpose of the meeting was to get community feedback on VDOT’s draft environmental impact statement, which estimates the potential effects on natural resources if the proposed 4-lane roadway is built south of Martinsville.

However, most attendees asked questions about the modified route and how it would affect their neighborhoods, officials said.

“People are wanting to know how the preferred alternative has been adjusted and what it looks like,” VDOT Project Manager Angel Aymond said. “I think most people have been supportive of the modifications.”

The “preferred alternative,” also known as Alternative C, refers to a 7.4-mile path from the North Carolina line to the U.S. 220/U.S. 58 bypass south of Martinsville. It was endorsed by federal and state agencies as the option with the lowest cost and least environmental impact out of three possible routes.

VDOT has made additional modifications in response to concerns from Henry County residents, moving the northern end of the route to the west in order to reduce the number of houses that could be affected. On Tuesday, a large map of the route, with satellite imagery of houses and structures in its path, was available for viewing.

Brenda and Mike Smith, who live in the nearby Farmingdale subdivision, were two of the attendees studying the map on Tuesday evening. Despite their concerns about highway noise, they both said they support the project and the preferred route.

“It would be nicer if it was further from our house, so we wouldn’t hear as much noise,” Brenda Smith said. “But I’m sure it’s something that’s really needed for our community.”

“We’re all for the highway,” Mike Smith said. “Moving it half a mile would mean a lot. We’re concerned about truck noise, specifically. I imagine there’ll be a lot of traffic on the new road.”

Brenda Smith added, “It would be nice if they could consider some noise barriers.”

Both said the difference in cost made a compelling case for Alternative C. According to VDOT figures, the original route for Alternative C would cost $616 million, versus $757 million for Alternative A and $746 million for Alternative B.

The draft environmental impact figures show Alternative C would affect an estimated 21,882 linear feet of streams, 3.7 acres of wetlands and 298 acres of farmland, as well as requiring up to 25 homes and three industrial sites to be relocated. Modifications to the route could increase project costs from the original $616 million to $705.7 million, but it is still the lowest cost of the three, VDOT officials have said.

Updated impact and cost figures will be included in the final EIS, which VDOT expects to release in December.

The public hearing originally was scheduled for the end of March but had to be postponed because of COVID-19. To accommodate social distancing and other health precautions, VDOT extended the time from the usual 2 hours to 4, limited attendance to 50 people at one time, and spread out the informational posters and agency staff outside under a picnic shelter. Attendees were asked to wear masks, and VDOT had disposable masks available if needed.

Not knowing how many people to expect, stickers marked places 6 feet apart on the path outside in case they reached capacity and had to ask attendees to wait in line. Disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer stations were available throughout the picnic shelter.

Brenda Smith praised the safety precautions. “This is a good place to have it. You feel safe being here,” she said.

VDOT is seeking public comments until Sept. 11 through “any method you can possibly think of,” Aymond said, including online, by phone, mail, and text message.

All of the meeting materials and the full 474-page environmental impact report can be viewed on the project website at www.virginiadot.org/martinsvilleconnector.

Comments can be submitted online at the study website or text ROUTE220 to 77948 have the survey sent to your phone. You can also email comments to: Martinsville220@vdot.virginia.gov. Please reference “Martinsville Southern Connector Study PH Comments” in the subject line

Or, submit comments in writing to VDOT before Sept. 11 by mail: Angel Aymond, Project Manager, VDOT Environmental Division, 1401 East Broad St., Richmond, Virginia 23219

All comments made will become part of the record and inform the study. VDOT will respond to substantive comments in the final EIS.

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