Completion of Smart Road still anyone’s guess
CHRISTIANSBURG — This year’s General Assembly session kicked off with an uproar about transportation funding — but with little apparent notice for Montgomery County’s long-held hope for the completion of the Smart Road, observers said.
“There’s currently no funding in the Six Year Plan to complete the road over to [Interstate] 81,” Jason Bond, spokesman for the state highway department’s Salem district office, said Wednesday.
That was the day the General Assembly began this year’s session and a day after Gov. Bob McDonnell unveiled a plan to overhaul the way Virginia pays for transportation.
Del. Joseph Yost, R-Blacksburg, said Friday that while he knew Montgomery County had again requested the completion of the Smart Road, it was not something anyone was actively working on, as far as he knew.
In October, the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors voted on a list of road priorities that included improvements along Virginia 8 and Virginia 114, upgrades to the park and ride lot at I-81’s Exit 118, and completion of the Smart Road.
Constructed at a cost of $50.1 million with an array of sensors in its pavement and with towers that can produce fog and snow, the Smart Road opened in 1999 as a two-mile-long test track operated by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, a joint venture between the university and the Virginia Department of Transportation. The two-lane road crosses the Ellett Valley on what VDOT has called the tallest state-maintained bridge in Virginia and then ends in a turnaround on the side of a ridge.
The plan was to eventually extend the road to become a four-lane, six-mile direct link between Blacksburg and I-81. But with the U.S. 460 Bypass, which opened shortly after the Smart Road, handling traffic, there is no timetable for further construction, Bond said.
“Today the bypass is functioning just fine,” he said.
Montgomery supervisors have requested more work on the Smart Road before. But even last fall, when supervisors voted to include the road in their short list of transportation requests to the state, there was no discussion about it.
“There’s probably no funding for it for a long, long time,” Supervisors Chairman Jim Politis acknowledged Friday.
Still, completing the road remains a priority for Montgomery County because it would give the county another interstate exit where the Smart Road joins I-81, projected to be along Den Hill Road, and would ease traffic flow generally, he said.
Yost said that while some of his colleagues in the legislature have been deluged with comments about the governor’s plan to eliminate the gasoline tax, which now funds many transportation needs in Virginia, and instead raise the sales tax, he had heard from fewer than a half dozen constituents.
“I think that’s typical of Southwest Virginia,” Yost said. “Transportation is not really on people’s radar.”
The Roanoke Times | 381-1669