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Two transportation projects - one by road, the other by rail - will have a large impact on Roanoke. The city must prepare.
Monday, April 1, 2013
Roanoke received confirmation last week that two hoped-for transportation projects will soon leap from dreams to reality. Once completed, the projects have the potential to change Roanoke as dramatically as Carilion's Riverside Center transformed the city during the last decade.
The first confirmation came when the Virginia Department of Transportation awarded a $38.4 million design-build contract to Lane Construction Corp. to complete the Interstate 581 interchange with Valley View Boulevard. This will prime for development 130 acres of fallow land adjacent to Southwest Virginia's premier retail and commercial district.
The second game-changer arrived when the governor left intact a rail component in the transportation plan approved by the legislature this winter. Barring any major hitches when the General Assembly reconvenes this week, passenger rail will return to Roanoke much sooner than advocates had hoped. Capital costs of $102 million are included in the plan to extend passenger rail from Lynchburg to Roanoke.
Now, Roanoke City Council will need to prepare. One project will require it to plan for future development; the other will require it to find the funds quickly to ensure when the train arrives it will have a place to stop.
Much of the heavy lifting for the interchange project has been completed. A plan to guide how the Evans Spring area should be developed was endorsed by the Roanoke Planning Commission, and now needs the council's approval. Residents of neighborhoods that border the acreage participated in the planning process, but not all are pleased that nearby fields will now be viewed by developers as a desirable home for stores and houses.
Change will happen, though. How the property looks, how traffic flows, and how much land is set aside for green space and trails depends greatly on how well the city controls the development. The Evans Spring neighborhood plan will provide the blueprint to manage growth.
While Roanoke will not need to find capital funds for Evans Spring, council will need to calm any lingering objections.
For the rail project, council is likely to find vast public support, though the dollars might be harder to scrape together. Engineers estimate the city will need to spend $6.1 million to construct a culvert strong enough to carry trains over Lick Run in downtown Roanoke to a station that would not interfere with freight trains, which would kill the project. A proposed capital budget that council will review today includes the funds.
Those millions, though, will be just the start. Eventually, Roanoke will need more than a platform.
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