You can have your say and ask your questions tonight about the proposed path for a U.S. 220 connector from the North Carolina state line to the U.S. 220/U.S. 58 bypass north of Ridgeway.

The Virginia Department of Transportation will hold a public hearing at 5-7 p.m. at Drewry Mason Elementary School to discuss its preferred preferred alternative for what it calls the Route 220 Martinsville Southern Connector Study.

That’s Alternative C, which VDOT describes as a 7.4-mile, 4-lane roadway that would connect with the existing interchange at Joseph Martin Highway and U.S. 58.

There are Alternatives A (8.3 miles) and B (7.70 miles) that take obviously different routes and connect at different interchanges on U.S. 58.

But VDOT spokesperson Jason Bond said VDOT planners believe Alternative C is the “least environmentally damaging practicable alternative,” which means it would have the least impact on aquatic resources and meets the Federal Highway Administration’s design requirements.

According to federal law, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can only issue water quality permits for the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative, and these permits are necessary for a project to advance to future construction.

Bond said an online survey about Alternative C had received 221 responses and two emailed comments through the past week, with 109 of the respondents agreeing with the VDOT’s selection.

There is no funding or construction schedule in place to build the road, but in February 2018, VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration initiated the U.S. 220 study to enhance traffic flow between North Carolina and the bypass, through an area where the road bed is very curvy and where the new Commonwealth Crossing industrial park could add significant traffic. This discussion also dovetails with the grander concept of extending Interstate 73 north from Madison, N.C., which also is being planned.

But there are several issues that have been raised by residents, including the impact on some neighborhoods and the possible effect on a substation owned by Appalachian Power.

Former Henry County Supervisor H.G. Vaughn of Ridgeway appeared last month before the Board of Supervisors to express opposition to Alternative C and to ask his former cohorts not to support it. He said the roadway would be seen and noises from its traffic heard by residents of the Farmingdale subdivision, where he lives.

And in an email to the Bulletin on July 29, Rob Lovell, who also lives in Farmingdale, pointed out the substation is in the path of Alternative C, just behind Mercy Crossing Church and easily visible from the Mercy Crossing Church parking lot.

“I would hate to see our tax dollars being spent to move an electrical substation, when there is a better route for the connector road,” he wrote in the email. “I think the issue of the substation needs to be brought before the public, so they will have more facts about Alternative C.”

Bond confirmed there is a substation within the route being studied for Alternative C, as well as for Alternative B. (It’s the same substation.)

Appalachian Power spokesman John Shepelwich identified the substation as the Sheffield Station.

“is a substation that receives power from a 138-kilovolt transmission line and steps it down to 34.5 kV.There are three distribution circuits that come out of the station that serve a total of 3,100 residential and commercial customers in the area,” Shepelwich said.

Bond said road planners haven’t “determined that level of detail yet” about whether the substation would have to be moved. He said the whole project is conceptual.

“It may be something that can be avoided when the road is designed,” he said.

“It’s too early to be conjecturing — on our part — about costs to move, etc.,” Shepelwich said. “However, I spoke to one of our planning engineers who notes that in the construction of a new substation, we allow 25-28 months from the time we own property and can begin work on the site. That really doesn’t include line relocation and other factors.”

Bond said it’s critical for people to remember that VDOT is showing worst-case impacts within these corridors. If and when funding becomes available, attempts would be made to reduce impacts on specific properties and resources.

He said there is flexibility when designing the roadway – because the possible road path being examined is about 400 feet wide at this point (including both lanes, median and shoulders) but a typical roadway is about 180 feet wide.

VDOT’s public hearing will be an open house format and provide an opportunity for residents to discuss the study with VDOT representatives and to provide input on the preferred alternative. The hearing will include a video presentation that will run throughout the evening.

Bond said the public’s input would be shared with the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of obtaining their endorsement before VDOT makes a recommendation to the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

VDOT expects to publish a draft environmental impact statement for public comment in December 2019 and to complete a final environmental impact statement in late 2020.

Paul Collins is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. Contact him at 276-638-8801, ext. 236.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated incorrectly the name of the agency that issues water quality permits for the least environmentally damaging option and the lengths of the three alternatives being considered. 

Paul Collins is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. Contact him at 276-638-8801, ext. 236.

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