Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Botetourt Co. supervisors OK rezoning for hotel off I-81

Officials say the Virginia Department of Transportation has committed $53 million to ease traffic at Exit 150.

The Roanoke Times
By Jay Conley

FINCASTLE -- Botetourt County supervisors on Tuesday rezoned land for a hotel near Interstate 81 in Daleville, based in large part on what they perceive is a heightened commitment from the state to ease congestion at Exit 150.

County officials said they were told last week that the Virginia Department of Transportation has allocated millions of dollars toward alleviating traffic congestion at the exit, a major I-81 interchange for travelers moving around fast-growing Botetourt County. The interstate and U.S. 220 intersect beside U.S. 11, creating bumper-to-bumper headaches for area residents, travelers and commercial motorists, including many heavy-truck operators who use the adjacent truck stop.

But VDOT officials said Tuesday the $53.6 million figure attached to the project hasn't risen or fallen within the department's six-year plan for primary road improvements. A separate $3.8 million project aimed at improving signs and turn lanes on U.S. 11 also is set to begin next year.

"There seems to be this impression that there's a whole bunch of new money that's been touted to Exit 150, and that's really not the case," said VDOT spokesman Chuck Lionberger. "This is not really anything super new."

Botetourt County Administrator Jerry Burgess said county officials met with VDOT officials Friday, at which time "VDOT representatives said that Exit 150 had their attention," and indicated a higher commitment than in the past to addressing congestion there.

"If VDOT is backing off of that, that's not what our representatives heard," Burgess said.

That commitment led the supervisors to overturn two votes made in February to block a developer's request to build a Holiday Inn Express on the eastern side of U.S. 11 just north of U.S. 220 and Exit 150.

Relax Investments Group wants to build an 84-room hotel there as part of a commercial park on 8.5 acres of land.

The Feb. 27 votes to rezone the land from manufacturing and agricultural use to business use ended in 2-2 ties, with Fincastle District Supervisor Don Meredith absent. The ties meant the rezoning requests died and that the developer had to wait a year before applying again for a rezoning of the land.

With all five supervisors present Tuesday, the board rescinded the previous votes and approved the rezoning 4-1.

Amsterdam District Supervisor Steve Clinton was the lone dissenter.

The key issue in the deadlocked votes was the supervisors' growing frustration with traffic congestion at the Daleville exit.

Valley District Supervisor Don Assaid had voted with Clinton last month in opposing the hotel project, saying it wasn't fair to county residents to create more traffic near the exit.

But Assaid said Tuesday he changed his mind after he and other county officials learned last week that the Virginia Department of Transportation had earmarked millions of dollars toward a solution for the exit.

"I see a willingness on VDOT's part to address this issue," Assaid said.

Burgess said that last week was the first time he learned VDOT had committed money to the project.

"It's not anything that we knew was there," he said. "VDOT may have known about it, but we didn't."

Rob Cary, VDOT's design engineer in Salem, said the money allocated to the project won't be available until 2012. VDOT hopes to hire a consultant within four months to design alternatives for the intersection that can be built for $53 million.

Ultimately, Lionberger said, the Commonwealth Transportation Board will have the final say on how much money is devoted to the project.

Staff writers Ray Reed and Jeff Sturgeon contributed to this report.

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