Roanoke unveils new sign pushing future Interstate 73

Roanoke unveils new sign pushing future Interstate 73 (Image 1) (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - It's been in the works for more than 20 years. Now, Interstate 73 is one step closer to becoming a reality.

During a news conference Friday, the City of Roanoke unveiled a new "Future Interstate 73 Corridor" sign that will go on Interstate 581. The project would run from South Carolina up to Michigan, cutting across Southside and Southwest Virginia.

"These are the building blocks of the foundation to get I-73 built," said Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin County). "The sign is a symbol, but it's also a real partnership between the Roanoke Valley, Southside and Southwest Virginia."

Stanley has been pushing for the project in Richmond, sponsoring a bill that establishes a the I-73 Federal Transportation Compact. It creates a partnership between Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina to coordinate the funding, development and construction of the new interstate.

Stanley said the project will be done in his lifetime. He's 47-years-old.

"This is the kind of project that will make a long term difference to the regional economy and I think that's critical," said Roanoke City Councilman Court Rosen, who also sits on the Commonwealth Transportation Board. "Unveiling the signs and memorializing the congressionally approved corridor I think is an important first step to make this a reality."

The project would have a major economic impact on the area. In November 2014, the independent Chmura Group estimated more than 47,000 jobs would be created in Virginia alone during the nine years it would take to build I-73.

Plenty of road blocks still exist before the project can be a reality. VDOT estimates it will cost $4 billion to build the new highway. It's unclear where that money will come from.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Roanoke) said he's been pushing for this project since joining Congress in 1993. He said funding remains a key issue.

"That's been the challenge all of these years," Goodlatte said. "We need to reauthorize the national highway system."

All sides agree it will take help from the federal, state and local level to make I-73 a reality.