Debate over Smart Road expansion continues


The expansion of Virginia Tech’s Smart Road has received mixed reviews, but many believe the economic benefits outweigh the concerns of the residents living near the facility.

The Board of Supervisors held a public hearing during Monday night’s meeting to allow citizens to weigh in on a request by the Virginia Tech Foundation to remove 129 acres along Ellett Valley from an agricultural and forestall district (AFD) so that the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) can expand the Smart Road to test vehicles in a more rural setting.

Landowners voluntarily submit property for AFD consideration as a way to curb development.

The process is renewed every eight years (last done in 2013), but landowners may request withdrawal for “good and reasonable cause,” which Tech officials said they have.

VTTI Director Tom Dingus said that the Smart Road has created 500 direct and indirect jobs since the 2.2-mile track opened in 2000, and that the addition would add another 156 jobs and $256 million in economic development by 2026.

He said that much of the work done at the facility has resulted in lower vehicular crash fatality rates and that the group has also worked with Google’s autonomous vehicles and is responsible for the rearview mirror camera that is found in most newer models.

Dingus said that expansion is vital for the research-institute to maintain its status as the largest transportation institute in the U.S. It is currently number one in federal grants and contracts as well as private-sector contracts.

Proponents believe the proposed two-mile track would provide the VTTI the ability to test autonomous vehicle on a unique rural and mountainous terrain, which would provide them a unique advantage over similar research groups when bidding for contracts.

Those against the development of the land have mostly been residents who live next to or near the property. They believe that the construction vehicles produce wear and tear to the roads, and that the narrow roads leading to the facility could be dangerous for vehicles traveling around blind curves, particularly school buses.

Noise from vehicle testing and construction were also mentioned multiple times by those opposing the expansion.

Others, like county resident Julie Krauss, focused more on the development of the region and how it detracts from the natural beauty of the semi-rural area.

“We are losing what Montgomery County used to be,” she said.

Scott Donaldson, an Ellett Valley resident since 1895, also opposed the expansion of the Smart Road. He said that Ellett Valley residents’ views have not been taken into consideration.

“Virginia Tech is a land grant university. Why do they feel it is necessary to impose on county residents?” he said.

John Tutle, who spoke in favor of the expansion, said that the expansion could keep graduates in the NRV.

“We’re rapidly growing in the county to become an even better research area,” he said. “It’s a reason for young citizens to stay here, a reason for them to want to stay here.”


“We’re rapidly growing in the county to become an even better research area,” he said. “It’s a reason for young citizens to stay here, a reason for them to want to stay here.”

Of the 22 residents that spoke, 13 approved of the new road, while nine opposed it.

The Planning Commission voted in favor of the change in February, but the supervisors did not make a decision. Rather, Chairman Chris Tuck invited VTTI to come back and answer more questions at the April 10 meeting.

The next meeting will be held at 7:15 April 6 at the Montgomery County Government Center, 755 Roanoke St., Christiansburg.

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