This week, SELC filed comments on behalf of itself and 16 organizations on the draft environmental impact statement for the wasteful and destructive Martinsville Southern Connector highway proposal in Henry County, Virginia.
In a significant and troubling departure from the Virginia Department of Transportation’s recent focus on identifying improvements to upgrade the current U.S. Route 220, the agency is proposing an expansive new bypass that would primarily run through greenfield areas around Route 220 to the south of Martinsville.
“This proposal is likely to cost over $700 million. It is unnecessary, would increase sprawl and carbon pollution while destroying carbon sinks, and is a poor use of taxpayer dollars,” says Senior Attorney Trip Pollard, who leads SELC’s Land and Community Program. “In short, it is classic old-school VDOT and contrary to recent reforms in Virginia and all we are working toward.”
The project’s draft environmental impact statement shows that it would have significant impacts on the corridor’s environment and communities. This includes direct impacts to 22,000 linear feet of streams and 3.7 acres of wetlands, clearing 224 acres of forests, and relocating 25 homes.
Any expected benefits of the Martinsville Connector would fall far short of justifying the enormous costs. The draft EIS shows that by 2040, only 12,8000 vehicles per day are expected to use this costly new highway at its busiest point, compared to 22,000 vehicles per day that would continue to use the existing, unimproved Route 220.
SELC is urging VDOT to halt the proposal, at the very least, until a much more comprehensive study is conducted to analyze more cost-effective and less-destructive reasonable alternatives to meet this corridor’s traffic and safety needs.