Like the warp and weft on a loom, the roads up and down the Valley weave our communities together. While it is true that there is nothing in the Alliance mission statement about transportation, there is plenty about “rural landscapes” and “thriving communities.” Good transportation planning is essential if we are going to maintain our beautiful part of Virginia for future generations. Unresolved transportation issues, on the other hand, stress communities and affect quality of life.
Left/Top: Photo curtesy of Augusta County Historical Society. Right/Bottom: Even now, a horse and buggy is a common mode of transportation for some Valley communities.
People in the Valley have always relied on transportation—early on by horse and wagon or even long-wooden boats called gundalows to get people and goods from here to there. Public byways must be as safe for someone on a piece of farm equipment or a bicycle as they are for drivers of motor vehicles, horse and buggies, or school buses. There needs to be room for pedestrians as well.
The Alliance and our legacy groups have weighed in on the transportation decisions facing our communities since 1999 when the Rockingham County legacy group formed to encourage good public policy on local land use and transportation planning. In addition to local and regional road projects, Interstate 81, with its heavy traffic congestion and safety problems that regularly spill over onto Rt. 11, has been a focus from the beginning.
We continue to advocate for I-81 solutions that address those safety and congestion concerns while minimizing the impacts to farmland, natural resources, historic sites, and local businesses.
“Every day, you can find slow-moving vehicles on roads across the Shenandoah Valley, whether horse-pulled buggies, farm equipment, or people walking and biking. Increasingly, and with substantial community input, our local planning efforts recognize the need to ensure safe spaces for slow-moving traffic, especially for the most vulnerable road users. The Valley is on the cusp of exciting changes to allow people to walk and bike safely as part of their everyday lives. Projects like the Shenandoah Rail Trail, planned greenways to connect to schools, or wider shoulders on county roads all make the Valley a better place to live and a friendlier place to adventure on foot or wheels. We still have a long way to go, and plans don’t always equal on-the-ground projects. With transportation planning efforts addressing gaps in our infrastructure, the next steps will hinge on funding to make many of these exciting projects a reality.”
~ Kyle Lawrence, Executive Director, Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition
From I-81 down to the tiniest country lane, more pavement is almost never the answer, especially in the Valley where no one wants to see working farms covered in asphalt through unnecessary bypasses or road widening.
A creative solution for unpaved roads in the more rural areas of our agricultural heartland has found traction as a partnership between the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and local governments. For years, folks living on gravel or dirt roads have struggled with rough driving and dust. However, traditional VDOT paving projects call for extensive (and costly) improvements, such as widening, grading, and curve correction, before applying thick layers of asphalt.
This photo is from the Dayton-area in Rockingham County, but is a common view across the Valley.
The problem with extensive improvements, in addition to the hefty price tag, is the draw that improved roads have for development. Soon new houses follow that nice ribbon of asphalt, cutting into working farmland and creating a demand for services far away from the urban centers. The subsequent decrease in quality of life is coupled with an increase in taxes.
The Rural Rustic Road Program and the Pave-in-Place programs are designed to solve the initial transportation problem of poor road conditions on rural roads without creating new issues that come with extensive road improvements. These two programs have been successful in addressing the transportation concerns of current residents without creating new land use problems.
“Decisions about transportation investments—where to invest, the best solution to a problem, how to pay for it—are complex and can bring great benefits to a community when done right. Just as important to the decision-making process as metrics about improved safety, increased job access, and support for economic development is whether governments engage with the community as they evaluate future investments. A chosen solution might not please everyone, but it’s critical to be transparent about how and why transportation investments are made.”
~ Ann W. Cundy, AICP, Director of Transportation, Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission
Recently two traffic-related transportation issues in Rockingham and Augusta counties have drawn the attention of Alliance staff. In Rockingham, a proposal to convert over 30 acres of agriculturally zoned land to make way for a large truck stop just off I-81 threatened the rural character and natural resources of the area with increased traffic, light pollution and noise. The Alliance helped rally the community to speak up and the supervisors denied the rezoning.
In Augusta, the transportation issue revolved around the proposed rezoning of over 100 acres to industrial use for a distribution center just off the I-81 exit at Greenville. The project would have put about 2,500 vehicles onto U.S. Rt. 11 every day, mixing with community traffic including from nearby schools. Again, the Alliance helped pull the community together and the application was withdrawn.
U.S. Rt. 11, running generally north to south from the top to the bottom of the Shenandoah Valley, has roots far deeper than the first European settlement west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Centuries before the route was widened and improved to accommodate vehicles, the Native Americans trod along this same route and later the first settlers used this route to make their way into Virginia from Pennsylvania in the early 1700s and towns like Woodstock above were established.
Clearly, staying vigilant and proactive about transportation issues is an important part of the Alliance’s mission. Those issues are as varied as the communities we serve but working to get transportation policies right goes a long way towards maintaining the Valley’s natural and cultural resources and vibrant communities.
Nancy Sorrells wears many hats in the community. In addition to Augusta County Coordinator for the Alliance, she is a former Augusta County Supervisor, founding member of Fields of Gold agritourism initiative, freelance writer and Valley historian.