EAGLE ROCK, Va. (AP) Virginia’s highway crews are at work along a busy stretch of U.S. 220 that residents for years have wanted widened to four lanes. But instead of road building, state construction workers are enhancing nature.
The Virginia Department of Transportation began working late last year to create a stream through a low-lying cornfield beside the highway and turn the area into an inviting habitat for plants, insects and wildlife.
While the $3.2 million project won’t reduce the state’s lengthy list of road projects, there is a payoff for VDOT: an environmental credit that the agency can cash in when it builds or widens a road over a marsh or stream.
When an acre of wetland is lost to development, a federal mandate requires that whoever is responsible must see that at least an acre is created or restored in the same water basin.
Since 2000, Virginia officials have required both private developers and public agencies to compensate for damage to streams longer than 300 ft. (91 m) through restoration, enhancement or preservation projects.
The 86-acre (35 ha) site that VDOT bought in 2002 for $425,000 can help the region’s future road projects clear required environmental studies and work, VDOT spokesman Jason Bond said. The area is expected to put the agency ahead by 36 acres (15 ha) of wetlands and 4,554 ft. (1,390 m) of stream.
However, some residents of the Botetourt County community would rather have the work go into U.S. 220.
“Everybody thinks it’s pretty stupid,” Eagle Rock resident Raymond Hundley told The Roanoke Times. “They keep hollering about money being short, and we see this going on.”
Funds for the habitat wouldn’t make much of a dent in the $40 million cost to upgrade the 7-mi. (11 km) stretch of U.S. 220 on VDOT’s list for widening, but in any case the money for it didn’t come from the road construction budget, according to VDOT spokesman Chuck Lionberger.
Faulconer Construction Co., the VDOT contractor, will carve a stream that is a foot or more deep and 8 to 12 ft. (2.4 to 3.7 m) wide with the help of a global positioning system-guided earthmover. Depressions will be dug nearly down to the water table to accommodate wetland vegetation.
The water is expected to show up on its own because rain runs from higher ground through the site. So are stream organisms such as crayfish and dragonflies.
Nearly 7,000 trees, 8,000 rooted cuttings and 19,000 shrubs are to be delivered for planting next year, along with organic compost. Crews will spread rocks brought from elsewhere on the streambed and banks.
The habitat is due for completion in 2009 as a nonpublic area, which will be encircled by a fence.