Cotton Hill – 221 Renovations Could Include Bike Paths / Greenways

Barbara Duerk (left) and Suzi Fortenberry discuss map with proposed trails / bike paths.

Residents who live off busy Cotton Hill Road in southwest Roanoke County got a glimpse of a plan that could make their lives easier last week, at an open house held at the new South County library. VDOT plans to widen the road from the portion of Cotton Hill Road that comes off Route 221 to the Blue Ridge Parkway bridge that crosses over it. Widening of the roadway will include additional accommodations from 221 to Monet Lane, where The Groves subdivision is located.

Those plans will include curb and guttering, and a separate left turning lane into The Groves/Orchards, a subdivision that is located not far from the intersection with 221. Sight distances will be improved by eliminating a hump in the road. 221 is already undergoing major renovations and widening up to the Cotton Hill Road intersection. Work on Cotton Hill Road itself will not start until 2014, although right of way acquisitions may start this year. (The 221widening project will be completed in 2014.)

VDOT project manager Scott Woodrum was showing open house visitors how they planned to make Cotton Hill a safer place to travel.  It’s just at the preliminary design phase now, and some property owners could be affected by future plans.

“With the new development there’s a higher volume of traffic on the road,” said Woodrum. “[This will] accommodate the recent growth on that road.” The total price tag could run close to six million dollars. “It’s been on the six year plan for quite a while,” noted Woodrum.

The plans will include a shoulder wide enough for a bike lane or greenway, and are part of a larger suburban greenway system envisioned in the area by landscape architect Chris Barlow. His proposed network of greenways/bike lanes could eventually include connectivity to the Roanoke River Greenway via a Blue Ridge Parkway trail. Barlow’s south county system, if ever built, would connect to a trail along the Parkway. The Roanoke River Greenway will cross the BRP on its way to Explore Park, according to a master plan.

Suzi Fortenberry, a realtor and developer at the Preserve at Two Ford, is pushing the south county greenway/bike lane proposal.  Fortenberry said Two Ford has lost two sales to Roanoke City, since prospective buyers wanted to be closer to a greenway.  “That’s tax dollars going away,” said Fortenberry about two projects that would have totaled almost two million dollars if built.

At Two Ford, where Suzi Fortenberry and husband Brent are building high-end energy efficient homes, residents would have to load up their bikes for example and drive 15-20 minutes just to reach the Roanoke River Greenway. “It’s why people move to Roanoke,” noted Fortenberry of the growing greenway system, “and we want young people to move to the county.”

Fortenberry, who was on hand at the open house with a layout of Barlow’s proposed trail system, is pushing for greenways where possible, rather than the paved bike lanes that VDOT is proposing for Cotton Hill and 221 when that work is completed. She also noted that several other small greenways are proposed for Southwest County, for stretches along local creeks.

Fortenberry said there is still time for local residents to make comments about any bike paths or greenways built along reconstructed roadways, “to make sure we do it right.” She favors multi-use paths that connect 221 to the parkway, and a path wide enough to accommodate users. She doesn’t think VDOT proposals leave enough room for bikers and others that would use those paths. Fortenberry also likes Barlow’s idea of a small pocket park where VDOT removed a house on 221 for road widening.

Barlow calls it the “Back Creek Valley Greenway,” which would use the proposed pocket park as the connector hub. From there people could pedal to local high schools, the new south county library, etc. 1500 homes would have “direct access to this greenway,” according to Barlow.

“There are connectors in the plan,” noted Barbara Duerk, a local cycling activist who liked Barlow’s vision. “It’s important to connect. We need to connect our neighborhoods to our schools and our services.” Duerk cited gas prices and the need for better health as two reasons to promote alternatives to driving. She was encouraged that VDOT is factoring bike lanes into plans for Cotton Hill and 221. “We need to have the structure [in place] for alternative transportation,” said Duerk, “it’s imperative that we have the dialogue and include these ideas in [future plans].”

Duerk said she has evidence of the greenway system’s growing popularity: “I used to know everyone that was down on the Roanoke River greenway – and now I know hardly anyone. The increased distances [as sections are added] have brought out many more people.” Adding more greenways in populous southwest Roanoke County would no doubt do the same.