By Taylor Boyd
The $300 million project to expand 7.4-miles of U.S. 58 over Lovers Leap Mountain officially began with a groundbreaking ceremony at Fred Clifton Park in Meadows of Dan on Wednesday, Sept. 29.
The project, which is expected to be completed by the spring of 2026, is part of the U.S. 58 Corridor Development Program that started in the 1990s to improve the highway system along Virginia’s southern boundary and promote economic growth in the area.
Gov. Ralph Northam said the groundbreaking and the road are important to the state because nothing drives the economy like transportation.
“This is a big project. It’s not only good for people that need to get through this area, but it’s good for the economy and it gets people to work,” he said.
Northam said transportation expansions put Virginia in a better position when businesses are contemplating moving here.
“Transportation is key and they see this, and that is why these companies want to come to Virginia,” he said, adding the Commonwealth has been the number one state in the country to do business two years in a row.
“Route 58 is a vital road for locals, tourists, and commercial traffic, connecting southern Virginia from the beach to the mountains. By widening this key section, the project will open up this part of Southwest Virginia to faster, safer travel and more economic investment,” he said, and noted that the project was started by Gov. Gerald Baliles, the 65th Governor of Virginia, and Patrick County native.
“If you think about back in the mid-1980s when he (Baliles) was in office, he made transportation one of his main priorities. A package of about $10 billion plus went into transportation to really expand transportation around the Commonwealth,” Northam said.
Noting that he used to meet with Baliles regularly before his death in 2019, Northam recalled that Baliles said, “‘Ralph, the one thing I ask of you is that you need to do is to continue to work on transportation in the Southwest because that is what will open up that area for businesses and for tourism.’”
Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Glade Hill, said since his election to the House of Delegates in 2008, one of his main priorities has been asking constituents what the issues were and what they would like him to do in their service.
“I can’t remember any response other than improve and four-lane Route 58. It was number one on everyone’s list,” he said, and added the economic potential, the public safety, tourism, and the exports through the Port of Virginia, are all coming together with the expansion project.
“For the people of Patrick County, it’s here. Do expect some delays, do expect some noise, do expect some dirt,” he said, smiling.
The project starts a quarter mile west of the Poor Farmers Market in Vesta and continues 7.4 miles east down the mountain until it connects to the existing four-lane section of the U.S. 58 Stuart Bypass.
In addition to widening the 7.4-mile section to four lanes, the project also includes widening road shoulders, improving secondary road connections and private entrances to provide greater intersection sight distance, adding turn lanes at all secondary road connections and crossovers, providing truck brake checks and truck escape ramps, and enhancements to the Lovers Leap Overlook. The enhancements include a better designation of the area, safer access to the overlook, and an increased number of parking spaces.
Shannon Valentine, Virginia Secretary of Transportation, said the project represents a continued investment in the people, communities, infrastructure, and economy of Southwest Virginia.
“Every year, thousands of commuters, travelers, and truckers take Route 58 as they travel along our Commonwealth’s southern border,” she said.
Virginia Commissioner of Highways Stephen Birch said the improvements to Lovers Leap have been decades in the making.
“One of the first projects Secretary Valentine and I were briefed on when we came into office in January 2018 was this project and how to get it moving. So, this is a monumental occasion for all of us here today,” he said.
“Once the General Assembly prioritized funding for the project, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and our partner Branch Civil used the innovative progressive approach known as Design-Build Approach to refine the design on the project and lead it to where we are today to construction,” he said. This was the first time this type of contracting method was used in the Commonwealth.
The project also will bring many needed safety improvements to the corridor, and “address the challenges presented by the mountain steep grades and its winding curves,” he said.
To help motorists with the mountainous terrain, the eastbound lanes will be built on the new alignment to provide a gentler grade for downhill motorists. This will leave the existing westbound lanes for westbound travel.
Upon completion, through truck or tractor trailer restrictions, will be lifted.
“It will also offer brake check areas for downhill motors and trucking escape ramps if needed,” Birch added.
For more information about the project, call (276) 224-2389, or email Route58LoversLeap@branchcivil.com, or go to www.virginiadot.org/route58loversleap.