Transportation and Land Use  

BREDL Comments to VDOT on the I-73 DEIS (Roanoke, VA to NC border segment)

January 11, 2001

Mr. Earl T. Robb
State Environmental Administrator
Virginia Department of Transportation
1201 East Broad Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219

Dear Mr. Robb:

RE: Comments on I-73 (Roanoke to NC border) project DEIS

I am submitting comments on behalf of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) and Virginians for Appropriate Roads (VAR). The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League is a regional, community-based, non-profit environmental organization. Our founding principles are earth stewardship, environmental democracy, social justice, and community empowerment.
BREDL has chapters throughout the Southeast. BREDL chapters and members have been
involved in the I-73 process since the early 1990’s. Virginians for Appropriate Roads, a BREDL chapter, will be submitting additional comments. All comments that are submitted should be

Availability of the DEIS

BREDL and VAR were disappointed that VDOT charged citizens for copies of the DEIS. As pointed out in the Federal Highway Administration regulations 25 CFR 771.123 Draft environmental impact statements (f) “...Normally, copies will be furnished free of charge...” For other highway projects, such as the Corridor H project in West Virginia, DEIS documents have been free to the public. Why did VDOT charge the public?

At the very least, VDOT should have made the DEIS available to the public via the I-73 website. VDOT cited the length of the DEIS as the reason for not putting the document on the web. Government documents which are much larger in pages and megabytes are posted all over the web. Plus, the DEIS length didn’t prevent the Roanoke Times from posting it on the Times’ website. It’s a sad commentary on VDOT when a media outlet has to initiate this public availability.

Comment Period

BREDL and VAR are concerned that the comment process did not give the public an adequate chance to study and comment on the DEIS. VDOT announced the release of the DEIS at a media event in Salem on November 1, 2000. However, no copies of the DEIS were available at this event because the DEIS was still at the printers. Only the Executive Summary was available. It was two weeks later when the DEIS was finally made available to the public - just in time for the busy holiday season. In mid-November 2000, we sent a letter to VDOT requesting a 90 day extension on the I-73 DEIS commenting period. We have yet to receive a reply to this request.

Since our letter, VDOT has extended the deadline from January 5, 2001 to January 12, 2001. This one week extension was probably to offset the non-availability of the DEIS on its release date of November 1, 2000. Once again, we express our concern that releasing the DEIS during the busy holiday season has not provided ample time for citizens to thoroughly read and analyze this important 550 page document.

On December 27, 2000, we sent another letter requesting a 90 day extension on the I-73 DEIS commenting deadline. We are awaiting a reply to our request.

Purpose and Need

VDOT is misleading the public by insisting that I-73 needs to be an interstate to fulfill the purpose and need of this project. I-73 never has been intended to be a full blown interstate and that is still the case today. On page 39 VDOT states: “In designating I-73 as a high priority corridor in ISTEA, the Congressional intent of the route as an interstate facility was clear. With additional legislation and amendment...” VDOT’s own statements show that it was not Congressional intent in ISTEA. More important, the additional legislation and amendments by Congress show that it is not the Congressional intent. In the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, it was not the intent to build I-73 to interstate standards. In the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995 it was not the intent to build I-73 to interstate standards. Currently, it is not the intent with the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century of 1998. In fact, Congress has made it clear for nearly a decade and with 3 pieces of legislation that I-73 does not have to be built to interstate standards.

The only “real” requirement of I-73 is that it be a part of the National Highway System.
It “may”, and we emphasize the word may, be designated as an interstate highway system, but that is not a requirement. TEA-21 states,

''(A) ADDITIONS.-If the Secretary determines that a highway on the National Highway System meets all standards of a highway on the Interstate System and that the highway is a logical addition or connection to the Interstate System, the Secretary may, upon the affirmative recommendation of the State or States in which the highway is located, designate the highway as a route on the Interstate System.”

It is also clear, from the other states that I-73 will traverse, that I-73 is one huge misnomer. I-73 will not be an interstate from Detroit, MI to Charleston, SC. Since the legislation, even the termini have changed to Sault Ste. Marie, MI and Myrtle Beach, SC. I-73 won’t even be an interstate in the routes designated as Corridor 5 in Section 332 of the NHS Designation Act of 1995. The Corridor 5 ("I-73/74 North-South Corridor") segments extend from Charleston, South Carolina, following two alignments, to Portsmouth, Ohio. No other state is considering an interstate standard highway throughout its length.

West Virginia has decided against an interstate. From page 40 of the DEIS, “West Virginia has completed a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) to upgrade existing U.S. Route 52 as their I-73 project. Due to the extreme terrain and capital costs, West Virginia has elected not to build to Interstate standards. This condition is true for much of the interstate system in West Virginia where design exceptions occur to accommodate mountainous conditions.” North Carolina has completed work on U.S. 220 (I-73) south of Martinsville. It was built for limited access, but is not a full blown interstate highway. From page 40 of the DEIS, “In Ohio, the construction of an I-73 is currently not being pursued due to limited resources. Building I-73 as a toll facility may be considered but will require changes to Ohio legislation.” Why is Virginia going against the grain? Once again, it is very clear that I-73 in Virginia and along the I-73 corridor does not have to be built as an interstate. In fact, I-73 will be a hodgepodge of road-types.

It is ironic that our neighbors in West Virginia who “created” I-73 to fill an interstate gap in West Virginia is not even building to interstate standards. Nelson R. Walker, Executive Director of the I-73/74 Corridor Association remarks before the Congressional Surface Transportation subcommittee hearing of March 15, 1994:

“The concept of this highway was created by a group of people in Bluefield, WV. In 1989, knowing a new system of proposed highways might occur in upcoming federal legislation, and with a deep concern of the conditions of U.S. Route 52 in Southern West Virginia, we embarked upon a plan to encourage the construction of a highway that would not only serve the needs of people and industry in the Southwestern part of West Virginia, but also the eastern region of the United States. In doing so we attempted, by design, to use existing federal routes that could possibly be brought up to the standards of a Highway of National Significance and fill a gap in-between existing Interstates. For lack of a better designation, we named the highway Interstate 73.”

From page 39 of the DEIS, the “NEED FOR ACTION” section doesn’t clearly demonstrate that a “need” exists. VDOT mentions, “The need for improved transportation facilities for goods movement which link the port of Charleston, South Carolina with Detroit, Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan” Why? What is this burning desire to link SC to MI? How are goods currently being transported, exported? This has never been an issue or a problem. Why not connect Milwaukee, WI to SC? With the flick of a pork-barrel pen, Congress can just arbitrarily pick any two cities. In fact, as mentioned earlier, the Charleston, SC terminal has been moved to Myrtle Beach, SC.

VDOT also says, “The need for an effective and efficient roadway which facilitates interstate travel between Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and North and South Carolina” Why is this a need? We (and VDOT) have already proved that “interstate travel” just isn’t going to happen for this entire route. Thus, this is not a need.

VDOT throws out another meaningless statement by saying, “The need for an interstate transportation facility to foster planned economic development between southwestern Virginia and the Piedmont Triad regions and between Virginia communities from the City of Roanoke to the North Carolina state line.” What “planned” economic development? Details, please!

As far as the cry for economic development. We have heard this tune before. Everytime there is a road issue. And each and every time, there are never any details provided. Just pie-in-the-sky claims. U.S. 58 was to be the end all of all ends for economic development. It has been called the savior. And now there is a new savior in town, I-73. What will be the imagined savior in years to come?

Economic Development

Interstates don’t necessarily bring economic growth. A cost-benefit analysis has never been done, so VDOT’s analysis of the benefits of building I-73 are not supported. On page 37 of the DEIS, VDOT says

“A benefit-cost analysis was not conducted for this project, as it is not a requirement under FHWA’s NEPA guidelines as set forth under FHWA’s Technical Advisory T 6640.8. Such an analysis is complicated by extensive financial assumptions and economic behavioral conditions implicit in the identification of costs and benefits. While the direct capital costs of constructing each alternative have been estimated and are documented in the DEIS as well as indirect costs such as lost tax revenue resulting from business displacements, other indirect and cumulative benefits and costs are difficult to quantify and subject to academic and economic interpretation.”

Yet, throughout the DEIS, VDOT asserts, without solid proof, the economic benefits of a new-terrain I-73. A Supplemental DEIS should be completed. The SDEIS should include a cost-benefit analysis for each alternative.

Future trends in economics were not discussed in the DEIS. Technology based economies which are not dependent on highways would boost economic development.

On page 43 of the DEIS, VDOT states, “Economic growth in the cities, towns and counties along U.S. Route 220 has and continues to be constrained by the limited transportation access to major markets and suppliers...Due to safety concerns and limited capacity, U.S. Route 220 currently cannot serve the corridor’s transportation needs to achieve these economic objectives.” U.S. 220 is not the constraint. It is the lack of diversity from the area’s textile jobs that has hurt the area’s economy. U.S. 220 has plenty of capacity and provides access to major markets, if marketable goods are produced. Plus, the rail system can and should be utilized.

Bias against the TSM option

In the FHWA guidance document T 6640.8A (Oct. 30, 1987), Section V(E)(2) Transportation System Management (TSM) alternative, it is stated,

“... the concept of achieving maximum utilization of existing facilities is equally important in rural areas. Before selecting an alternative on new location for major projects in rural areas, it is important to demonstrate that reconstruction and rehabilitation of the existing system will not adequately correct the identified deficiencies and meet the project need.”

VDOT has been biased against the TSM alternative from the get-go. From letters to citizens, comments in the press, and information in the DEIS, VDOT has not seriously considered the TSM alternative. In fact, VDOT actions have seriously prejudiced the TSM alternative as the department has tried to discount TSM as a viable alternative.

One has to look no further than the DEIS to see this. It appears from the DEIS, that the decision to build a new terrain interstate has already been made. All of the build alternatives have detailed
maps in the DEIS, yet VDOT would not even provide a simple map outlining the 32 TSM projects. During the public hearings, hidden in the Noise Technical Memorandum, a map was located. We have also learned that there is a map of TSM in the Alternatives Identification and Screening technical memorandum. A TSM map should have been included in the DEIS.

At the public hearing, VDOT failed to include huge display maps showing the TSM projects. Also, in the sleek informational packet that was handed to all participants at the public hearing, detailed color maps of all the Build alternatives were included. There were no maps highlighting the 32 TSM projects. There were no maps showing the 37 projects that will be completed regardless of the I-73 outcome. These 69 projects should have been presented to the citizens.

A volunteer of BREDL with above-average computer skills took fully 12 hours to modify the TSM map and make it available via the VAR and BREDL websites. Making this map available to the general public is VDOT’s responsibility.

We point out that in the FHWA guidance document T 6640.8A (Oct. 30, 1987), Section V(E) Alternatives, it is stated, “Each alternative should be briefly described using maps or other visual aids...” In addition, NEPA (40 CFR 1502.14(b) requires that the DEIS must “Devote substantial treatment to each alternative considered in detail . . . so that reviewers may evaluate their comparative merits.”

VDOT spokespersons’ comments in the media have also displayed a bias against the TSM option. For example, from the Roanoke Times , Dec. 15, 2000

“VDOT spokeswoman Laura Bullock told a reporter that Transportation System Management would do little to solve U.S. 220's many problems.
"It does not provide more space for more traffic. It does not provide a faster road. It doesn't do anything for the amount of existing truck traffic, which is higher than many interstates in Virginia," Bullock said.
Transportation System Management is a low-cost upgrade that would amount to a patchwork of small improvements, including some new turning lanes and some closed median crossovers, Bullock said.
She said VDOT studied Transportation System Management as an option to I-73 because the National Environmental Policy Act required it.”

We can apply that same logic to the entire DEIS, which is required by NEPA. I guess VDOT doesn’t want to follow these legal requirements.

Prior to the release of the DEIS, VDOT Commissioner Chip Nottingham, in a letter to a citizen in Franklin County at the request of Senator Roscoe Reynolds, wrote that I-73 will be built as a limited access highway and the lack of space for service roads makes fixing 220 an unviable option.

It appears that VDOT is spending as much of their time to discredit the TSM viable option as they are to promote a build option. And all of this prior to the DEIS commenting period deadline. All of this points to the fact that TSM is a viable alternative and VDOT knows it. VDOT wants to continue plowing through Virginia regardless of their legal requirements and financial constraints.

VDOT needs to focus more attention on the maintenance of existing highways instead of constantly constructing new highways. Only about 38 percent of the current VDOT budget is spent on highway maintenance. The current Virginia Transportation Development Plan allocates
approximately $9 billion over the next six years. In the upcoming six years, JLARC staff, in a December 2000 Draft Report, states that VDOT underestimates the cost of projects in the plan by $3.5 billion. The TSM alternative would benefit taxpayers and travelers. The TSM alternative is one-tenth the cost of any of the build alternatives. The TSM alternative is estimated to cost $146 million dollars. The build alternatives will cost an estimated $1.2 to $1.4 billion.

We respectfully request VDOT to fairly and fully present the TSM alternative in a Supplemental DEIS. This should include, but not limited to, TSM maps comparable to the build alternatives, descriptions of how TSM will meet the purpose and need of a National Highway System designation.

Conflict -of-Interest in the analysis

The DEIS was prepared by individuals and companies that have supported and stand to gain financially from a build option for I-73. From page 473, list of preparers for the DEIS include Hayes Seay Mattern & Mattern, Inc and John Lambert and Associates both companies were included in an April 1994 article in the publication Agenda “A Publication for members of the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce” Vol 9, No. 21. The article titled “I-73 Moves Closer to Reality” lists people and organizations involved in support of I-73. How come road opponents and other concerned citizens weren’t invited as preparers for the DEIS?

Safety concerns

VDOT lists safety concerns on the current U.S. 220 as a purpose for constructing a new terrain highway. VDOT spends a lot of space in the DEIS showing how unsafe U.S. 220 has become, yet VDOT offers no solutions to making U.S. 220 safer with any of the build alternatives. The TSM alternative is the only option that will make U.S. 220 safer. In one place, (On page 304 of the DEIS) VDOT finally acknowledges that “The TSM Alternative would improve the safety of all travelers on U.S. Route 220...”

If a build option is chosen, then we will still be left with an antiquated, winding, unsafe U.S. 220 which will still be utilized, especially by local traffic. Does VDOT not care enough about the local citizens to upgrade U.S. 220? If VDOT intends on leaving behind this unsafe highway, while building a new terrain highway, then VDOT should look into ripping up the pavement of U.S. 220 or barricading it from use!

Throughout the DEIS, VDOT mentions that U.S. 220 is unsafe for truck traffic. Yet, VDOT does not provide any data to back these claims. On page 25 of the DEIS, VDOT states, “Another regional priority in southwest Virginia is to address safety concerns along U.S. Route 220 resulting from high percentages of truck traffic, . . .” Then on page 27 “growing truck traffic” and again on pages 39 and 43 “The high percentage of truck traffic on U.S. Route 220” is mentioned.

A look at some VDOT data, shows that percentage-wise, trucks are not contributing to more of the accidents on U.S. 220. From the VDOT document Route 220 Safety Report, (Sept. 27, 1994, rev. Nov. 30, 1999), About 18 to 22 percent of the U.S. 220 traffic is truck traffic. About 18 percent of the accidents on U.S. 220 are attributed to trucks, based on the 1991, 1992, and 1993 years. (NOTE: VDOT does not include the amount of accidents attributed to trucks for the years 1994 - 1998 in the revised report.)

On page 43 of the DEIS, VDOT says, “This volume of trucks operating on a rural primary road with steep grades, poor site distances, dangerous crossovers and uncontrolled access, contributes to a safety problem in the corridor and constrains freight dependent economic activity.” These safety problems can be alleviated with the TSM alternative. In fact the “critical accident rate locations” along U.S. 220, as listed on page 44 of the DEIS, will be improved under the TSM alternative.

VDOT says in the DEIS, “A limited access facility, as currently proposed under the Build Alternative, would have a lower accident rate as compared to existing U.S. Route 220 and would divert motorists from U.S. Route 220 to I-73. As a result, reductions in traffic volumes along the existing U.S. Route 220 roadway would result in a reduction in the number of accidents forecast to occur along the roadway.” VDOT fails to include projections for accidents on a new I-73 highway. VDOT only looks at the reductions of accidents on U.S. 220. Those I-73 accident projections need to be included in the data. On page 292, the table does not indicate that VDOT used projected accidents on a new terrain I-73 in its figures. This greatly skews the data. The accident rate on interstates from 1995-1997 has averaged a rate of 66. This number needs to be added and forecasts adjusted accordingly. VDOT needs to make it clear how they tabulated this forecast. For instance, a truer forecast of accidents would need to include not only the forecast of accidents on the new terrain I-73, but should include the entire I-81 to NC line Study Area, not just south of Rt. 419 in Roanoke. Truck traffic, other vehicles, congestion, and accidents will increase on I-73 access roads. Projected accidents from access roads to I-73 should be included.

BREDL echoes the statement from a February 1998 Army Corps of Engineers’ letter.

"The draft Purpose and Need (P&N) provided in July 1998 (dated February 1998) presents issues and concerns which appear to be almost entirely associated with Route 220. Is there an independent purpose and need for an interstate facility? If so, the P&N should be revised to identify and support it. If the problems being addressed are all entirely related to the existing Route 220, then why is the project I-73? It appears that the study should be a Route 220 study, and that widening and/or new alignment of 220 should be the alternatives considered.... It is not clear from the discussion of future traffic conditions supports the P&N for the study area.... The draft P&N appears to focus on Route 220 issues, which leaves the reader confused about the P&N for a new interstate highway." - Army Corps of Engineers

The DEIS still leaves these questions unanswered as VDOT focuses much attention on U.S. 220.

Alternatives not addressed

Access management, a bigger TSM alternative, a rails alternative and mass transit should have been studied as part of the I-73 project. These are reasonable, viable alternatives and should have been studied per FHWA regulations 23 CFR 771.123(c) which states “...The draft EIS shall evaluate all reasonable alternatives to the action and discuss the reasons why other alternatives, which may have been considered, were eliminated from detailed study...” VDOT failed to address alternatives per NEPA 1502.14(a) which states, “Rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives, and for alternatives which were eliminated from detailed study, briefly discuss the reasons for their having been eliminated.” It was not noted in the I-73 DEIS why these reasonable alternatives were dismissed in the DEIS study.

An alternative focusing on “access management” should have been included and studied as a viable alternative for the I-73 segment from Roanoke to NC border. Access Management could add to the TSM option. A form of access management would be cost-effective when compared with the price tags of the build alternatives.

None of the alternatives presented address the congestion problem in the Roanoke area of the Study Area. On page 293 of the DEIS, in Roanoke City, Botetourt and Bedford counties, no TSM improvements are proposed. We question why only U.S. 220 was included for TSM improvements. Why were no improvements listed for I-581 and adjacent highways? Such improvements could alleviate the I-581 to downtown traffic volume, which is not addressed by any of the build alternatives. I-581 improvements need to be considered because I-581 is currently and would remain part of the National Highway System designated route if the no-build or TSM alternative is chosen.

Note: On page 291 of the DEIS VDOT mentions “The 34 identified improvements of TSM” Is this a misprint or did VDOT drop 2 improvements from the list?

A rails alternative should have been included and studied as a viable alternative. Moving freight from trucks to trains would reduce the amount of truck traffic, reduce the amount of pollution, reduce the traffic volume, while improving the rail industry. The rail industry was once a viable economic boom in the Roanoke Valley. That “real” economic development is being lost.

A mass transit alternative should have been addressed in the study. The Study Area’s total population more than meets the requirement for studying mass transit.

These viable, reasonable alternatives need to be studied and addressed in a Supplemental DEIS. The public and Commonwealth Transportation Board should have the opportunity to consider all viable options.

Traffic Data

On page 49, the projected average daily traffic on U.S. 220 south of Boones Mill will only increase by 100 vehicles in the year 2020. The projected ADT on U.S. 220 south of Rocky Mount will only increase by 600 vehicles in the year 2020. These projections indicate that the TSM alternative will more than meet the study area’s future traffic needs.

The traffic volume is not on the majority of U.S. 220. Once you get south of the Rte. 419 intersection, the traffic volume drops considerably. It is the I-581 segment in the city of Roanoke that has and will have the traffic problems. The brunt of the ADT is on I-581 from the I-81 intersection to downtown Roanoke at Elm avenue. None of the alternatives have addressed this high traffic volume. No matter which I-73 build option is utilized, vehicles are destined to downtown Roanoke. These vehicles will continue to use the I-81 to I-581 route to access Roanoke.

The I-581 average daily traffic projections for 2020 include from 84,500 to 108,700 vehicles for the no-build/TSM alternatives; from 92,000 to 105,700 for Option 1; from 99,700 to 126,700 for Option 2; from 99,800 to 126,900 for Option 3; and from 82,900 to 106,700 for Option 4.

The Level of Service analysis shows that the LOS and projected LOS for 2020 for much of U.S. 220 is either rated A or B. The worst LOS and projected LOS for 2020 occurs on the I-581 section. Once again, none of the proposed alternatives will alleviate this problem.

The Roanoke Valley Area Constrained Long Range Plan 1995-2015, according to the DEIS, is the only mention of I-581 improvements. These improvements are part of the no-build alternative. They will happen regardless of the alternative chosen for I-73. Thus, VDOT’s LOS analysis on page 278 appears to be incorrect for I-581 which is already constructed to interstate standards. The no-build option is given the rating of “F” along both the U.S. Rt. 11 to U.S. Rt. 460 segment of I-581 and the Rt. 24 to Rt. 11 segment. Whereas, build options 2 and 3, which would divert over 16.56 percent more traffic (based on ADT projections on page 275) onto I-581, are given a rating of “D” for the U.S. Rt. 11 to U.S. Rt. 460 segment and a rating of “E” for the Rt. 24 to Rt. 11 segment.

An I-73 build option is not needed to offset traffic volumes. The LOS for the majority of U.S. 220 is forecast (2020) to have a high rating of “A” for the no-build option.

On page 65, it is unfair to lump the no-build and TSM in the same category. The TSM option will improve travel time along the U.S. 220 corridor. The travel time saved within the Study Area from build alternatives is not significant - about 5 minutes. Plus, there is some fuzzy math in the figures. On page 65, VDOT estimates that on a new terrain I-73 a trip from Roanoke to Greensboro would be reduced by 41 minutes. It also claims that a trip from Martinsville to Greensboro would be reduced by 7 minutes. Then on page 66, VDOT says that a trip from Roanoke to Martinsville will be reduced by 5 minutes. Is there a time zone change in Martinsville that is unknown to all except VDOT. Where did that other 29 minutes come from?

On page 291, all of the Build Alternative options reduce the forecast traffic volumes along existing U.S. Route 220 south of Route 419 as compared to the No-Build and TSM Alternatives. South of Route 419 is not the major traffic problem or volume. It is north of Route 419. The build options will do nothing or very little to reduce those high traffic volumes.

Land use

The increasing loss of our agricultural and forest land in Virginia and the U.S. needs to be addressed. In Virginia, 45,000 acres a year of farmlands and forests are lost to development. The state lost nearly 450,000 acres of prime farmland from 1987 to 1997, and an average of 26,000 acres of forest land annually between 1977 and 1992. The cumulative and secondary impacts from the loss of farmlands and forests for each I-73 alternative needs to address
Virginia’s and the U.S.’s continuing loss of these important, vital lands.

We will point out that TSM is the only construction option that meets the statement on page 150 of the DEIS, “The transportation goals and objectives generally outline the same issues. These jurisdictions want to ensure safe and efficient modes of transportation, preserve their natural and cultural resources, preserve their rural character, and maintain consistency with other jurisdictions goals.”

On page 129 of the DEIS, “A common theme to these (local comprehensive) plans emphasizes each jurisdiction’s desire for rural areas to maintain their rural qualities and for urban areas to remain urban.” A TSM or no-build alternative should be utilized to preserve this valuable, life-sustaining land.

On page 35 of the DEIS, VDOT states, “The Build Alternative would result in a loss of approximately 0.4 percent of the total forest lands currently existing in the five-county area, the conversion of forest lands would not be a severe impact from a regional perspective.” This figure is inconsistent with data presented elsewhere in the DEIS.

On page 125 of the DEIS, VDOT states that the project area consists of 310,951 acres of forestland. Then on page 298, Table 4.2-1, VDOT outlines the acreage impacts to the forests. The Roanoke area and I-73 Study Area stand to lose a significant amount of tree canopy from each of the build alternatives. The table below reflects loss of forestland from the highway itself.
It does not include the resulting sprawl.

Percentage of loss of forestland for each alternative



1A 2 2A 2B 2C 3 3A 3B 3C 4 No-Build
NA 1.41 1.39 1.09 1.03 1.02 1.04 0.66 0.72 0.69 0.65 1.10 0

The average tree canopy in the Roanoke area has declined from 40 to 35 percent during the past 24 years, according to a report by the non-profit group American Forests. The secondary and cumulative impacts from sprawl and the declining tree canopy in the Roanoke area from a build alternative will have a greater impact than VDOT states. Whereas, the no-build or TSM options would have minimal impacts.

In the DEIS, VDOT only looks at a one-mile area around proposed interchanges. VDOT needs to complete a Supplemental DEIS to fully study the cumulative and secondary impacts to land use for each alternative.

Environmental Justice

Executive Order 12898 requires Federal agencies to identify and address "disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations." A December 2, 1998 Federal Highway Administration Order established policies and procedures for the FHWA to use in complying with Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations (EO 12898), dated February 11, 1994. In this FHWA order,

“ (f) Adverse Effects means the totality of significant individual or cumulative human health or environmental effects, including interrelated social and economic effects, which may include, but are not limited to: bodily impairment, infirmity, illness or death; air, noise, and water pollution and soil contamination; destruction or disruption of man-made or natural resources; destruction or diminution of aesthetic values; destruction or disruption of community cohesion or a community’s economic vitality; destruction or disruption of the availability of public and private facilities and services; vibration; adverse employment effects; displacement of persons, businesses, farms, or nonprofit organizations; increased traffic congestion, isolation, exclusion or separation of minority or low-income individuals within a given community or from the broader community; and the denial of, reduction in, or significant delay in the receipt of, benefits of FHWA programs, policies, or activities.”

(g) Disproportionately High and Adverse Effect on Minority and Low-Income Populations means an adverse effect that:
(1) is predominately borne by a minority population and/or a low-income population; or
(2) will be suffered by the minority population and/or low-income population and is appreciably more severe or greater in magnitude than the adverse effect that will be suffered by the nonminority population and/or nonlow- income population.

VDOT did not address the secondary and cumulative impacts to minority and low-income residents and their communities as outlined in the December 2, 1998 Federal Highway Administration Order (Section (f) adverse effects). VDOT analysis only addresses the direct impacts to displaced minority and low-income residents and businesses.

VDOT analysis did not include the impacted populations in close proximity to the alternative. On page 146 VDOT states, “Historically, the development of I-581 and US Route 220 has incurred minor impacts to low income and minority populations in the Lincoln Terrace housing development.” The Lincoln Terrace housing development represents just a small portion of minority and/or low-income populations in the Roanoke area. Secondary and cumulative impacts have impacted these residents, their neighbors, and their community.

Breathing the polluted air, hearing the constant noise, feeling trapped by a huge freeway in your backyard are not “minor impacts”. Impacts from storm-water runoff, exposures to an increase in air pollution (both locally and regionally) from Criteria Pollutants and HAPs, pedestrian safety, noise, increased ill health, and community destruction by massive highways need to be addressed.

Build alternatives 2 and 3 would increase traffic, noise and air pollution causing significant impacts to Roanoke City’s minority population which predominantly make up the residents along the I-581 corridor. We point out that while the I-73 Study area (16.8 percent) is below the state average (24.0 percent) for minority populations, build options 2 and 3 would significantly impact Roanoke city’s (25.7 percent) minority population which is above the state average.

1990 Census data shows that 25.4 percent of Roanoke City’s population is minority; whereas, only 3.5 percent of Roanoke County, 5 percent of Botetourt County, and 5.4 percent of Salem City population is minority. Build options 2 and 3, segment 374, would traverse Roanoke City.

On page 148 of the DEIS, VDOT states, “ground verification was used to determine the number of minorities throughout the study area. However, no contact was made with any of the residents included in 600’ corridor. Information was obtained by windshield surveys from agents in the field. Also, through visual observation and comments from the planning districts, no significant concentrations of minorities are located within the study area but are scattered throughout the corridors.” What? VDOT hurriedly drives through neighborhoods and bases critical decisions on employees who were too afraid to leave their vehicles.

On page 148 of the DEIS, VDOT says, “Historically, the development of I -581 and US Route 220 has incurred impacts to low-income, non-minority populations in the Southeast section of the City of Roanoke.”

Page 150, again with the windshield surveys as VDOT dodges the low-income populations of Roanoke. Once again, Build options 2 and 3 would significantly impact the low-income populations of Roanoke. While the I-73 Study area (10.3 percent) is in tune with the state average (10.2 percent), Roanoke city (16.1 percent) includes a much higher percentage compared to Build options 1 and 4 (4.1 to 4.3 percent).

Using the table on page 304, all variations of alternatives 2 and 3, except 3A, would displace a higher percentage of minority and low-income residential units. Alternative 2, 2A, 2B and 2C range from 18.38 percent to 21.38 percent displacement of minority residential units. Alternatives 3, 3B and 3C displacement of minority residential units range from 13.85 percent to 15.28 percent. Alternative 3A displacement would be 11.17 percent which is closer to Alternatives 1, 1A and 4 which range from 9.38 percent to 11.76 percent.

The results are similar for the displacement of low-income residential units. However, the percentages are closer. Alternatives 2, 2A, 2B and 2C range from 7.03 percent to 8.86 percent displacement. Alternatives 3, 3B and 3C range from 6.55 percent to 6.65 percent displacement. Alternative 3A displacement would be 5.09 percent which is closer to Alternatives 1, 1A and 4 which range from 5.00 percent to 5.87 percent.

Both Alternatives 2 and 3 (and variations of Alternatives 2 and 3) would adversely affect the Rescue Mission Thrift Store. The displacement of this community asset will impact the low-income residents who may have trouble accessing the store at a different location.

Options 2, 2a, and 2c would displace the Super Save Fresh Foods grocery store. This discount grocer is a valuable resource in the Southeast community.

Options 1, 1a, 2, 2a, 2c would severely impact a community of German Baptists in Franklin County near the Route 116 corridor. This community of families is renowned for their traditional faith-based values. Their religious beliefs prevent them from speaking out on issues such as the I-73 project.

The noise impacts from alternatives which impact the minority and low-income populations are significantly higher than other alternatives.

VDOT needs to fully study and address the cumulative and secondary impacts to minority and low-income populations in a Supplemental DEIS.


Options 2 and 3, which would impact a significantly higher number of minorities and low-income residents, have the highest number of properties with severe noise impacts. On page 321 of the DEIS, “Based on the evaluation of alternatives, Table 4.4-2 shows that Options 1, 1a and 4 would have the least number of impacts (approximately 400 to 600) on category “B” sites. Options 2, 2a, 2b, and 2c would have impacts in the range of approximately 1,300 to 2,100 properties. Options 3, 3a, 3b, and 3c would experience the highest number of properties with impacts ranging from 2,800 to 3,300 properties.”

On page 326, VDOT mentions that “another important abatement consideration is the third party funding provision. This provision of the policy states that, when a noise barrier is determined to exceed the $30,000 per protected residential property cost criteria, the affected property owners have the opportunity to contribute the amount above the ceiling. Sound barriers to protect public-use, non-profit facilities do not fall into the $30,000 per protected property cost criteria and are considered by the department on a case by case basis.” The low-income residents and communities would be at a great disadvantage under this provision. Are grants and other assistance available for low-income families?

The majority of barriers are planned outside the minority and low-income communities.

Air Quality

Please see accompanying report for Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and Virginians for Appropriate Roads’ comments on air quality.

Visual Quality

VDOT’s assessment of visual quality is full of misconceptions. While VDOT should and needs to assess viewsheds of and from the project, these views are far from being equal. On Page 351 of the DEIS, Option 1, VDOT claims, “Due to the views around Lynville Mountain, the visual impact would be high for the residences within the viewshed. This is balanced by the high visual quality of views that would be experienced by travelers of the road. As Option 1 enters the south end of the Blue Ridge Mountain landscape region, there would be a high visual impact where the highway would divide the farms. The traveler would benefit from exposure to this rarely noticed landscape.” That’s akin to saying “let’s dissect that person because we haven’t seen his insides - the person would die, but we would have accessed a rarely noticed landscape” Contrary to VDOT thinking, dividing farms cannot be balanced by travelers views. Farms are life-sustaining fabrics of our society which greatly enhance our quality of life.
Traveler’s temporary views just don’t rate that high.

On page 353, Option 2A, VDOT claims “The highway would become a dominant visual element in the landscape adjacent to the community of Mount Pleasant, visible from the BRP and Roanoke Mountain. Due to the views around Lynville Mountain, the visual impact would be high for the residences within the viewshed. These impacts would be balanced by high quality views of Lynville Mountain in the foreground and background views of Roanoke Mountain in the distant west." VDOT is just not getting it. You can’t balance the ugliness of a smelly, noisy, huge slab of concrete and asphalt. Plus, the traveler’s temporary views cannot offset the permanent views of local residents. Residents who have to live with this view day after day.

On Page 362, regarding Blue Ridge Parkway crossing, "Segment 105 effects on the cinematic experience would be relatively low due to the location of the crossing. The travel sequence along the BRP would stay generally uninterrupted throughout the transition from woods to interstate back to woods." The artist conception of I-73 and the Blue Ridge Parkway, which was displayed at the public hearings, looked really noticeable. This facility would not only stick out, but would leave a memorable impression.

The Blue Ridge Parkway’s vitality is scenic views. These views must be protected to ensure the Parkway will remain a national treasure. Alternatives that avoid impacts to the Parkway should be utilized.

Water Quality

On page 370 of the DEIS, there are huge increases in stormwater runoff - 28.6 percent with Option 1, 12.1 percent with Option 2, 14.7 percent with Option 3, and 37.2 percent with Option 4. These huge increases could significantly add zinc, iron, copper, cadmium, chromium, nickel, manganese, cyanide, sodium, calcium, chloride, sulphates, and hydrocarbons to the nearby soil and water. Impacts from these chemicals need to be addressed for groundwater, streams, wetlands, and watersheds. Impacts on the human environment and aquatic life need to be fully addressed.

Impacts from all alternatives to the broader watershed areas need to be addressed.

Erosion and sediment control strategies which will be implemented during construction, operation, and maintenance of the various alternatives need to be discussed.

In July 1999, the non-profit group American Forests completed an Urban Ecosystem Analysis for the Roanoke area. They found that from 1973 to 1997, the Roanoke area tree loss resulted in a 17 percent increase in stormwater runoff (515 million cubic feet) at a cost of $419 million. VDOT needs to assess these impacts from the I-73 project.

We are concerned about impacts to Blackwater River, which has been nominated as a State Scenic River, because of its wild, scenic, and biologically significant characteristics. We are concerned about additional impacts to the Roanoke River, Pigg River, Smith River, and Back Creek, We are concerned about the impacts to the aquatic habitats for native trout, Roanoke logperch, Orangefin madtom. Secondary and cumulative impacts were not addressed in the DEIS. The direct, secondary, and cumulative impacts need to be fully addressed.

Wildlife impacts

Wildlife mortality from roadkill incidents need to be addressed.

On page 456 of the DEIS, VDOT states, “On a long-term basis, these vegetated right-of-way areas would provide a limited amount of wildlife habitat values (particularly for bird species). All practicable measures to enhance wildlife habitat values of the right-of-way would be provided during development of the landscape management plan.” VDOT should not destroy wildlife habitat, then create habitat along the highway which will inevitably lure animals to their vehicle encountered death.

On Page 374 of the DEIS, VDOT states, “...studies have demonstrated that the impact of deicing on the surrounding soil is limited to a distance of approximately 50 feet (15 meters) from the edge of pavement...” This does not take into account impacts to wildlife that are adversely affected by the chemicals from the roadway runoff. Birds and other animals can become seriously ill and disoriented from highway/vehicle runoff pollution. These ill effects can increase wildlife mortality from roadkill incidents.

In addition, cumulative impacts to wildlife genetics and loss of habitat needs to be addressed. On page 377 of the DEIS, VDOT says, “Forest communities of the type affected are widespread throughout the region; thus, mobile wildlife species inhabiting affected areas are expected to be absorbed into adjoining forest communities with no long-term adverse effects.” Wildlife species will not simply absorb into other areas as VDOT claims. VDOT does not address the affects on all species from crowding and territorial instincts. Highways, especially freeways, create barriers to the necessary movement of native wildlife and plants. This decrease in habitat limits the gene pool.

Wildlife tunnels/corridors need to be incorporated into all the alternatives. On page 377 of the DEIS, VDOT says, “A number of existing wildlife corridors will be unavoidably bisected following construction of a new interstate. . . . a new interstate will serve as a physical barrier to wildlife species that are most mobile. It can be expected that the frequency of wildlife-vehicle collisions will increase as additional roadway is added to the regional transportation network and land is converted as a result of secondary development.” VDOT acknowledges that wildlife corridors will be impacted, but fails to address mitigating measures.

T&E species

The significant impacts to the areas Threatened and Endangered species need to be fully disclosed. Mitigation is not an acceptable answer. Populations need to be fully avoided, so that these species can recover to viable populations. There were no mention of Eastern cougar, Bald eagle, Indiana bat as being impacted by this project .

We are most concerned about the impacts to the Roanoke logperch. This fish is endemic to the Roanoke and Chowan River drainages. The populations are small. All Build Options will impact the Roanoke logperch. Options 2 and 3 will have 3 incidences of direct impact. These impacts will leave the Roanoke logperch extremely vulnerable to highway construction, highway accident spills, and highway and stormwater runoff. Any one of these could wipe out or seriously impact a population of Roanoke logperch.

VDOT needs to further study direct, cumulative and secondary impacts to all T&E species. Recovery plans , if available, should be consulted. We concur with Virginians for Appropriate Roads’ additional comments on threatened and endangered species.

Historic Resources

A more thorough check should be completed for each alternative. Alternatives that avoid
historic resources should be utilized. We concur with Virginians for Appropriate Roads’
additional comments on historic resources.


On page 426 of the DEIS, table 4.11-1 , why did TSM estimate double to $284 million?

On page 426 of the DEIS, table 4.11-2, shows build options will consume a lot more fuel which will create more pollution.

The dwindling oil supply and increasing oil costs need to be addressed.

Secondary and Cumulative impacts

VDOT needs to address secondary and cumulative impacts to reflect the “new emphasis” of the Federal Highway Administration and to meet NEPA requirements. In an April 1992 FHWA Position Paper titled "Secondary and Cumulative Impact Assessment in the Highway Project Development Process", the lead highway agency acknowledges that past actions “have not addressed secondary and cumulative impacts.” In the paper the FHWA goes on to say,

“Regardless of this history, secondary and cumulative impacts will become important issues which will temper decisions made by FHWA and the State Highway Agencies (SHAS) on project scope, location, and mitigation. To fulfill the general NEPA mandate of environmentally sensitive decision-making the FHWA and the States must develop and use techniques to incorporate secondary and cumulative impact issues in the highway project development process. The techniques must ensure that social, economic and environmental impacts are analyzed in both the present and future context. The SHAs and FHWA must establish a way to make one public interest decision with the assurance that all relevant impact issues were studied. We cannot assume necessarily that impacts which are difficult to recognize and evaluate have no bearing on our decisions. Since we are making decisions that shape the future, we must consider the ramifications of those determinations beyond their immediate effects on the existing environment.”

In the I-73 DEIS, VDOT has failed to address these secondary and cumulative impacts to air, water, forests, farms, health, land use, and the quality of life for area residents.

As pointed out by an Aug. 3, 1998 EPA letter to VDOT, “For projects like I-73, the cumulative and secondary impacts may be larger than the direct impact of the highway itself.” In this letter, EPA volunteered to help VDOT outline these secondary effects. Apparently, VDOT didn’t take them up on their offer.

VDOT suppresses discussion on secondary and cumulative impacts on page 430 by declaring, “Since growth in development is already planned in these areas, with or without an interstate facility, the secondary impacts from any of the proposed build options would be minimal.” That concluded VDOT’s meager attempt at addressing secondary and cumulative impacts. Once again, proving the old adage that it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

It is clear that VDOT only wants to address the impacts on the “economic vitality” aspect. On page 431, VDOT goes into its rhetoric about economic development . Even, so boldly, stating “A component of the purpose and need for this project is to foster economic development. Whether or not this development will occur is not the question.” VDOT spends 2 and a half pages on this economic development issue even after acknowledging that a cost-benefit analysis was never completed. Then, on page 434, VDOT picks up the economic development issue once again for another page and a half. The problem is VDOT diverts attention away from the secondary and cumulative impacts of the human environment.

VDOT needs to go back to the drawing board and fully address the social, economic, and environmental secondary and cumulative impacts to fulfill its legal obligations under NEPA. A comprehensive secondary and cumulative impact assessment in accordance with CEQ Regulations 40 CFR 1502.16(b) and following the guidance of the FHWA 1992 position paper “Secondary and Cumulative Impact Assessment in the Highway Development Process” needs to be completed and included in either a new DEIS or a Supplemental DEIS.


There is no mention in the DEIS of the Fries high-strain zone and Rockfish Valley high-strain zone fault areas that various I-73 alternatives will traverse. The DEIS does mention the Bowens Creek fault area, but fails to address any impacts. The potential impacts to and from these fault areas need to be addressed.

Right to Hunt and Fish

I-73 build alternatives conflict with the Virginia Constitution as amended. The I-73 DEIS does not address the impacts to Virginians new constitutional right to hunt and fish. Build alternatives will impact both fishing waters and hunting lands. The DEIS should include direct, cumulative and secondary impacts to these recreational, constitutional activities.

For instance on page 381 of the DEIS, the bridge crossings mentions the trout classifications of the Smith River, Glade Creek, Maggadee Creek and Roanoke River. VDOT fails to mention or address the impacts to the Smith River which is “Virginia’s most noted trophy trout stream”
according to Virginia Wildlife. VDOT fails to mention or address the impacts to the newly designated “delayed harvest” section at Green Hill Park which is in close proximity and immediately downstream of Option 4. Both of these rivers have special regulation waters. VDOT also fails to mention the rarity and importance of these resources.

Agency comments

The DEIS has not addressed comments and issues from agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency.

Public comments

As of January 9, 2001, our records indicate that from the BREDL website over 200 public emails have been sent to VDOT as part of the public commenting process on the I-73 DEIS. These comments and any additional comments sent by Midnight on January 12, 2001 should be included in the official record for the I-73 DEIS. Copies of these emails have been kept for BREDL records as well. We point out that it was late in the I-73 DEIS commenting period before VDOT made an email response form available on its website.

Other comments

Considering the enormous dogleg of I-73 through Roanoke, the linkage ideology is unjust.

Impacts to travel from foggy and icy conditions, especially for Option 4, need to be addressed.

The use of I-73 as a transportation route for hazardous wastes should be addressed. Safety costs and impacts from hazmat transportation need to be addressed.


The I-73 DEIS fails to address major issues, reasonable alternatives, secondary and cumulative impacts of each alternative, and is written to bias against the TSM alternative. These issues need to be addressed prior to the selection of a preferred alternative by the Federal Highway Administration, Virginia Department of Transportation, and/or the Commonwealth Transportation Board. Therefore, we strongly request that either a new DEIS be prepared to address these concerns or a Supplemental DEIS should be completed and made available for public review and comments.

Until all reasonable alternatives are presented, we are in favor of the TSM option.

We are opposed to all new-terrain options for I-73. These include:
Option 1 & 1a: Eastern Corridor
Option 2, 2a, 2b & 2c: I-581 to Windy Gap Mountain
Option 3, 3a, 3b & 3c: Make I-581 and U.S. 220 an interstate
Option 4: Western Corridor


Mark E. Barker
BREDL Board of Directors/Virginia Vice-President
1828 Brandon Ave. SW
Roanoke, VA 24015
(540) 342-5580