Recent VDOT Projects

On 16 February 2002 I went for a little tour around the Blue Grass valley in Highland County to look at three VDOT reconstruction projects on secondary roads. Sadly I do not have before-and-after pix of these areas and, while I have driven over all of them in the past, my recollections of what the roads looked like and what the problems were are hazy at best. If any reader has earlier photos I would be pleased to post them. There were some issues that needed attention but nothing that could have justified what was done.

What must be kept in mind at all times is that a safe and convenient roadway does NOT have to be ugly!

Route 641, Ruckman Lane

Route 641 turns west off of 640 about halfway between Hightown and Blue Grass. It is less than a mile long and serves 5 or 6 farms. For some reason VDOT chose to rebuild the first part of it. Shown here is the western terminus of the project with 5 drainage pipes emerging from under the roadway, discharging into a riprapped ditch. Note the large cut slope and all new fencing on the left.

The other end of the same project, looking east. Note the extensive guard rails. Rt 640 is just in front of the distant tree line. The black line below it is silt fence. The cost for this work must have approached $1 million. This road probably carries 20 to 30 vehicles per day.

Route 640, Martha Hammer Curve

Route 640 is the main road north and south through the Blue Grass valley. As such it deserves to be safe and well maintained. The above photo shows the recent realignment of the Martha Hammer curve just south of New Hampden, looking north, Brushy Mountain and Devils Backbone in the distance. I am told there had been several accidents there, clearly warranting safety improvements. Such improvements could and should blend in with the landscape. The reality is riprap and a shiny guard rail from one end of the job to the other.

View of the same project looking south.

Route 644, Hardscrabble Road

View looking north just before the gap on the way to Hardscrabble and the WV line. This is typical of the way all of rt 644 looked before VDOT reconstruction.

The north end of VDOT’s 644 project with guard rail on the right and huge cut slopes on the left. There are better views of this to be had but this was the last frame on my roll of film. While carrying more traffic than 641, this is still a lightly travelled road that adequately served all users prior to reconstruction.


The Roanoke Times recently carried an insightful column on how VDOT operates. The crux of this story is that VDOT is an amoral agency driven by the construction and development industry and having no common sense or environmental ethic whatever. They give a nod to the environment when forced to, such as putting up silt fence to contain soil erosion. However, a common-sense approach to safety improvements would do more to reduce soil erosion at its source than all the silt fence in the world could do to contain it later. And that says nothing of the impact of their work on the visual resources that form the essence of life in Highland County as well as the backbone of the tourist industry. Anyone who wants to see riprap, road cuts, and miles of shiny guard rail has no need to leave the Interstate.

It is essential for all of us who revere Highland County to become vigilant and review every VDOT plan, no matter how seemingly modest or on whatever remote byway in the County. Our Board of Supervisors should have made these concerns abundantly clear to VDOT long ago and put a stop to these abuses. Since they have not in the past it is up to the rest of us to call their attention to these issues and see that environmental and aesthetic issues are given full consideration. It would never have occurred to me to become involved in a half-mile project on a lane serving a few farms 20 miles away in the next valley. But what was done there is an assault on everyone in the County. Fortunately the US 250 boondoggle seems to be off the table for now but the talk has shifted to realigning a curve on rt 678 south of McDowell. If given the opportunity VDOT will replicate the Martha Hammer curve in the Bullpasture Valley. It must NOT happen!!

John R. Sweet,   Mustoe, VA   24468