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VDOT Project Earns Recognition For Protecting Wildlife · Aug 5, 2004

A project to widen and improve Route 17 in Chesapeake has received national recognition from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for protecting wildlife and preserving the ecosystem along the Great Dismal Swamp. The project, managed by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), is one of seven in the country that the FHWA has designated as a 2004 Exemplary Ecosystem Initiative. The FHWA gives the special designation to transportation projects that develop innovative and forward-thinking ways to enhance and preserve ecosystems.

“The Route 17 project represents a true cooperative effort between federal and state agencies to build a critical transportation improvement and protect the environment,” said Jeff Southard, VDOT’s chief of planning and the environment. “Being good transportation stewards means being good environmental stewards as well. The project will protect wildlife habitat, provide safe passageways for animals, link habitats, give visitors numerous wildlife-viewing opportunities and offer scientists a large outdoor laboratory.”

VDOT’s Route 17 improvement project is nearly 12 miles and runs along the Great Dismal Swamp from Dominion Boulevard to the North Carolina state line. The project, which involves widening a section of existing pavement and building a stretch of new roadway, will improve safety for motorists and better serve the increased traffic volume heading to North Carolina and the Outer Banks.

To help mitigate project impacts, VDOT donated 758 acres of existing wetlands to the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (DGIF) for wetland preservation. Thirty-to-40 acres will be available for camping, bird watching and possibly hunting.

In addition to the wetlands donation, VDOT is building animal passages to minimize impacts on the rich abundance of wildlife in the area. The Great Dismal Swamp is inhabited by a variety of mammals, 21 species of reptiles, 58 species of turtles, lizards, salamanders, frogs and toads, and more than 200 species of birds. Due to its location between the swamp’s National Wildlife Refuge and forested “Green Sea” wetlands, the Route 17 project will be able to link habitats and provide a wildlife corridor.

To develop its mitigation and restoration strategy, VDOT worked with an interagency team from FHWA, DGIF, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Environmental Quality, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The collaborative approach resulted in a conservation easement that places this land into a new state wildlife management area and substantially adds to the protection of suburban wetlands in the Commonwealth.

The Route 17 project is slated for completion in the fall of 2005 at the cost of $42 million. The project is 100 percent federally funded.

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