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U.S. 58 project kicks off
Breaking ground for the U.S. 58 Laurel Fork/Tri-County Widening Project are (from left) Robbie Williams, Virginia Department of Transportation Salem District construction engineer; Joe Turman, Burks Fork District representative on the Floyd County Board of Supervisors; Karl Weiss, Blue Ridge District representative on the Patrick County Board of Supervisors; Dana Martin, Salem District representative on the Commonwealth Transportation Board; Richard Caywood, VDOT Salem District administrator; state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Glade Hill; state Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Glade Hill; state Del. Nick Rush, R-Christiansburg; state Del. Anne Crockett-Stark, R-Wythe; David Mitchell, project manager for Branch Highways Inc.; and Will Karbach, president of Branch Highways. (Bulletin photo by Paul Collins)
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
As livestock grazed in the distance, about 80 people gathered on a scenic hill Tuesday afternoon in Laurel Fork for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s groundbreaking ceremony for the U.S. 58 Laurel Fork/Tri-County Widening Project.
The $120 million project involves widening an 8.2-mile section of U.S. 58 that passes though Carroll, Floyd and Patrick counties between Meadows of Dan and Laurel Fork, according to a VDOT news release.
State legislators, local government representatives, local and state VDOT staff, officials with project contractor Branch Highways Inc. and Dana Martin, Salem District’s representative on the Commonwealth Transportation Board, were among those participating in the ceremony.
Richard Caywood, VDOT’s Salem District administrator, said, to his knowledge, the Laurel Fork/Tri-County Widening Project is the largest project in the district’s history.
U.S. 58 is Virginia’s longest road, stretching 508 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the southwestern tip of Virginia. The General Assembly established the Route 58 Corridor Development Program in 1989 to enhance economic development potential across this largely rural portion of the state, according to a VDOT fact sheet.
The U.S. 58 Laurel Fork/Tri-County Widening Project involves widening an 8.2-mile section of U.S. 58 from two lanes to four lanes with grassy medians in some areas. The project, scheduled to be completed in fall 2015, will require excavating about 1.7 million cubic meters of rock and dirt, laying 15,000 meters of drainage pipe, installing 10,000 meters of guardrail and placing 135,000 metric tons of asphalt, according to a VDOT fact sheet.
The $120 million price tag was identified as part of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation package and programmed into the Six-Year Improvement Program by the Commonwealth Transportation Board, according to the fact sheet.
Will Karbach, president of Branch Highways, said expanding the Panama Canal offers much opportunity for Virginia’s deep ports, and the completion of the widening of U.S. 58 is critical for transporting goods to and from Virginia’s ports. The 58 project will result in jobs for this area for years to come, Karbach and other officials said.
Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Glade Hill, said one of every eight jobs in the commonwealth is tied directly or indirectly to the Port of Virginia. He added that widening U.S. 58 is vitally important to this region’s economy, and he will continue working to obtain funding to complete the remaining portions.
“It is really important to us,” Karl Weiss, Blue Ridge District representative on the Patrick County Board of Supervisors, said of the Laurel Fork/Tri-County project. The “$120 million is a lot of money to come up with in these hard times,” he said, and added that he hopes funding can be found as soon as possible to finish widening U.S. 58.
Del. Anne Crockett-Stark, R-Wythe, discussed how roads historically have been important to Virginia’s mountain communities. She also referred to the old Irish blessing that says in part, “May the road rise up to meet you.”
“I hope this whole 58 corridor will finally come up to (meet) us,” she said.
State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Glade Hill, said, “This is the most important transportation project in Virginia,” and it’s critical to the economic revitalization of Southside and Southwest Virginia. “We will not stop advocating, we will not stop pushing” until the widening of U.S. 58 is complete, he said.
Martin, who is from Martinsville, said U.S. 58 “is truly a corridor of statewide significance.”
“That’s a win, win, win situation,” he said of the commerce and tourism benefits of the widening project.
He also talked about safety benefits, adding that he has been “scared half to death” at times when traveling some stretches of U.S. 58.
He urged the crowd to keep the pressure on the General Assembly to provide funding to complete the widening of U.S. 58. “Help me with the General Assembly. ... They work best when pushed,” he said.
Robbie Williams, VDOT Salem District construction engineer, talked about the history of the corridor.
According to information on VDOT’s website, in December 2003, VDOT signed a public-private partnership agreement (PPTA) with Branch Highways to develop and widen 36 miles of the U.S. 58 corridor from Hillsville to Stuart as state funding becomes available. The U.S. 58 corridor from Hillsville to Stuart was the last remaining section to complete the widening of U.S. 58 from Virginia Beach to I-77.
The first phase of widening U.S. 58 under this agreement was a three-mile Blue Ridge Parkway crossing at Meadows of Dan. It was completed in May 2006 at a cost of $20 million. The second phase of U.S. 58 widening completed under the agreement was the $83 million Hillsville Bypass, completed in fall 2011. The bypass included 5.2 miles of four-lane divided highway built in Carroll County around the town of Hillsville, according to information on VDOT’s website and a VDOT fact sheet.
After the Laurel Fork/Tri-County project is done, about 19 miles of U.S. 58 will be left to complete the widening between Hillsville and Stuart. The remaining projects include Lovers Leap Mountain, Vesta and Crooked Oak.
In addition, 1.7 miles of Route 669 in Carroll County will have to be improved as part of the U.S. 58 widening. The cost of these four remaining projects is estimated at $480 million, according to a VDOT fact sheet.
“I’m really excited” about widening the 8.2-mile section of U.S. 58, Williams said, and he thanked elected officials.