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March 19, 2008

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The planned Interstate 73 will have a huge economic impact on the Henry County-Martinsville area, a consultant has determined.

By 2025, the highway could support up to nine hotels, 11 gas stations, six fast-food restaurants and four full-service restaurants along its interchanges in Henry County, according to a report prepared by Richmond-based Chmura Economics & Analytics.

Exact locations of interchanges have not been determined.

Those businesses should be able to create about 498 jobs and contribute about $48 million annually to the local economy by then, the study shows. The latter amount reflects money spent by customers as well as taxes and employee compensation paid by the businesses.

Any company eventually opening a distribution center along I-73 would create about 200 jobs and have a yearly economic output of about $14 million by 2020, the study projects.

Other firms that open or move plants to sites along I-73 also would create jobs and economic output attributable to the highway, the study shows.

By 2020, the study shows, Henry County could be receiving as much as $208,753 in annual business/professional license fees from construction firms, as well as $916,418 in various taxes paid by service businesses.

The study focuses more on the economic impact to the overall region in Virginia where I-73 is to be built than it does on Henry County-Martinsville alone. That region includes Henry, Franklin and Roanoke counties as well as the cities of Martinsville, Roanoke and Salem.

Along that line, the study shows construction of I-73 will create more than 5,300 temporary jobs yearly in the region, as well as have a total economic impact of $490.1 million between 2012 - when the study anticipates the construction could begin - and 2020.

The latter figure takes into account a ripple effect reflecting things such as money that contractors spend on supplies locally, services provided by site developers and designers and even products and services that construction workers spend money on while working in the region, said Chris Chmura, president of the economics/analytics firm.

She estimated that more than 20 percent of the region's overall economic impact from I-73 would be in Henry County and Martinsville.

The Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce presented the study's findings to the public Tuesday at the Virginia Museum of Natural History. The Harvest Foundation and the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission paid for the study.

Findings of the study are "very encouraging news" for the area, said chamber President Amanda Witt.

Martinsville City Councilwoman Kathy Lawson said the figures show I-73 will be "a shot in the arm for an area that has been hit over and over and over again with (economic) depression."

The Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) has selected a roughly 70-mile route for I-73 in Virginia running from near Roanoke south to the North Carolina line and passing through Henry County east of Martinsville. While the interstate will not run through the city, it will be close enough to Martinsville for the city to directly benefit from it, the study says.

Witt said the study focused on the route chosen by the CTB. She said the tobacco commission has a similar, yet less extensive, study on an alternate route proposed for I-73 that would take the highway closer to Martinsville.

There is "very little difference" in the findings of that study, which was not discussed at Tuesday's presentation, and Chmura's findings, she said.

Still, Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, said he was surprised that the alternate route study was not discussed, especially because the estimated $4 billion construction cost of I-73 in Virginia is "a lot of dag-gone money."

Eventually, I-73 is to stretch from Michigan to South Carolina.

Economic developers have predicted I-73 will help Henry County-Martinsville attract new business and industry. That is because interstates generally have fewer curves than most types of roads and do not have driveway connections that can slow traffic, causing a potential for accidents. Therefore, they are considered safer for large trucks used by businesses to travel on.

"Highways do make a difference in terms of economic growth," Chmura said.

She pointed out that economic growth along I-81 has caused Harrisonburg and Winchester to grow so much that now they are considered by the state to be metropolitan areas.

The Federal Highway Administration has issued a record of decision for I-73, clearing the way for the design phase.

About $13.3 million, including roughly $8.8 million in federal funds, has been allocated for I-73 so far. However, the CTB has not yet committed to placing the interstate in its six-year plan for transportation projects.

Projections in the study are based on assumptions such as no oil crises or economic recessions, which could cause motorists to travel less, occurring during the next decade and I-73 not being a toll road, which could lead to traffic along the interstate being less than expected.

Preparation of the study involved examining lots of information pertaining to economic factors and highways. The information included studies of highways previously built and their effects on industry and economic differences among areas with and without major highways, the study indicates.

Chmura's full report is available on the chamber's Web site, www.martinsville.com.

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