Harrisonburg Connector Study
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is a location study?
A. A location study is comprised of environmental, traffic, and engineering studies, as well as public involvement and outreach efforts. An important element of this location study involves preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement to meet requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and other related laws.
Q. How long will it take to conduct the Study?
A. The Study began in February 2004 and is scheduled to end in October 2006.
Q. Why are you still studying this project? Why don’t you listen to the majority of citizens from the previous public meetings who opposed this project?
A. VDOT is required to study the project due to its inclusion in the Virginia Transportation Act of 2000, the Six Year Plan, and in response to requests from local governments and elected representatives.
Q. When would anything approved in this Study actually be built?
A. Before any construction could occur, the environmental process has to be completed. If a ‘build’ option is selected, design and construction documents must also be prepared and the right of way acquired. The entire process could take ten years, assuming funding availability.
Q: Why does it take VDOT so long to plan a highway?
A: It may seem like a long time. However, VDOT must follow many required laws and regulations, collect substantial amounts of information, carefully consider all relevant factors, consult with citizens and elected officials, coordinate with other government agencies, develop and consider a range of alternatives, and fully document all these efforts. In short, highway planning in this day and age is a complex process that takes time to complete.
Q. How much will the entire project cost?
A. It depends entirely on the alternative decided upon by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB). Costs would vary greatly: the No-Build or ‘Do-Nothing’ Alternative would cost nothing. If a build solution is selected, costs will depend on the type of facility (e.g. type of access-control, interchange vs. intersection), the number of access points, and the number of lanes. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) includes cost estimates for different alternatives.
Q. What is the "No-Build" alternative?
A. The No-Build alternative is to take no action other than what is already scheduled. VDOT produces a Six-Year Program listing projects it will implement for the next six years. If the No-Build alternative is selected, projects listed in the VDOT’s Six Year Program would be implemented. Also, in metropolitan areas, the No-Build alternative assumes implementation of other committed projects included the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPOs) long-range plan.
Q. What is a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)?
MPOs are established by agreement of the Governor and the local governments for each urbanized area with a population greater than 50,000. The MPOs are responsible for a regionally coordinated continuing, cooperative, and comprehensive transportation planning and programming process The Harrisonburg metropolitan area was recently designated an MPO and is currently working with VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to prepare it’s first long range multimodal transportation plan. Once completed, this plan will replace the Harrisonburg Area Transportation Study (HATS) Plan. Local government representatives of the City of Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, and the towns of Bridgewater, Dayton, and Mount Crawford serve on the MPO’s Policy Board and Technical Committee. Representatives of VDOT and FHWA serve on the Technical Committee. The Executive Director of the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission is also the Executive Director of the MPO.
Q. So how do all of these other plans relate to this location study?
A: Long-range transportation plans, such as the HATS Plan and the MPO long-range plan currently being prepared (which will replace the HATS Plan), are more general, policy-oriented documents covering the whole region. Although the plans list specific projects or proposed transportation improvements, the precise alignments and the specific design specifications are not determined. Such details are developed in project-specific location studies and during the detailed project design process. FHWA and VDOT use regional transportation plans as the basis for prioritizing and initiating the more detailed location and design studies. This location study will be conducted in accordance with steps outlined in regulations for the National Environmental Policy Act. The Environmental Impact Statement documenting those steps will be an objective, fact-based analysis of transportation needs, solutions to meet these needs, and impacts from these solutions.
Q: Have you already decided where to build the road?
A: VDOT has not made, and will not make, the decision on where to build any new road. VDOT compiles factual information to meet National Environmental Policy Act requirements for impartial review of all alternatives, including No-Build. Citizens who make up the Commonwealth Transportation Board, a body appointed by the Governor, make the ultimate decisions regarding the implementation of any build alternative. The decision will not be made until the appropriate stage of the National Environmental Policy Act process. That stage will follow completion of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and the Location Public Hearing. In addition, since VDOT would likely use federal funds for the project, the Federal Highway Administration would have to agree with the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s decision.
Q. Is there funding to construct?
A. As of today, there is no funding for construction of the Harrisonburg Southeast Connector. Once an alternative is selected, VDOT will examine possible funding sources. Allocations of funding for construction are made annually with the update of the Six-Year Program.
Q. Can't you just fix the existing roads without building a new one?
A. As part of this study, VDOT will study the feasibility and costs of improving existing roadways in order to meet the transportation needs.
Q. Are bike paths or transit being considered in this study?
A. Multiple modes and locations are being considered. It is difficult, at this early stage, to determine which alternatives will best address the transportation problems.
Q. What amount of money does the Virginia Transportation Act allocate to the Location Study?
A. VTA does not actually allocate funds to specific projects; it identifies funds needed to do a project. For the SE Connector, VTA identifies $20 million for the Location Study. Specific project funding is allocated through VDOT's Six-Year Program.
Q. Does the money identified in the VTA have to be paid back? When and how?
A. As mentioned above, VTA does not actually allocate money to a project. Funds are allocated to a project through VDOT's Six-Year Program. The source of funding for the project is the Staunton District Primary Road System Funds; some of these funds are from FRANS (Federal Revenue Anticipation Notes). FRANS must be paid back over an identified timeframe.
Q. When will the public have an opportunity to participate in the Study?
A. There will be numerous opportunities for public participation in the study, including public meetings, an Internet website, and a continuously monitored email account through which anyone can provide comments.
Q. What about the work and recommendations made by the citizen advisory group-- the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Highway Advisory Committee? This group was active in 2000 and 2001 and produced several recommendations for addressing a potential connector road.
A: The recommendations made by the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Highway Advisory Committee will be closely reviewed and evaluated.
Q. My house is old too, why isn’t it shown on the maps as a historic property?
A. Only those historic properties that had previously been recorded by others are shown on the current mapping. Without doubt, there are more historic properties in the study area than are currently shown. Once the alternatives to be studied in detail have been identified, surveys will be conducted by professional historic resources specialists within and near each alternative to identify any additional historic properties.
Q. How is the proposed relocation of Rockingham Memorial Hospital and a sports complex affecting the study?
A. We are considering scenarios with and without the new hospital and sports complex off Port Republic Road until a definitive decision is made regarding these developments.
Q. Who can I contact about this Study?
Location Studies Manager
Virginia Department of Transportation
1401 E. Broad St.
Richmond, VA 23219