Getting Around Virginia’s Blue Ridge
At the recent celebration of the beginning of the shuttle to McAfee Knob, Dr. Ray Smoot, former Chief Executive Officer of the Virginia Tech Foundation and current member of Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board stated something profound and though unintended, representative of a challenge for the region. Dr. Smoot remarked that with the addition of the shuttle, Virginia’s Blue Ridge was more accessible by public transit than ever - it is now possible for someone living in New York or Boston to travel to our area and visit downtown Roanoke, Virginia Tech and even the top of McAfee Knob – all via publicly funded transit. That is simply amazing! Think about it, one can arrive by train (actually the same person could do so by plane, as well) and never need a car to access our vibrant downtown, one of the top University’s in the southeast and the premier recreation trail in the Nation, including the most photographed location along its 2,190 mile length!
A Group Effort
This is no small feat and should not be taken for granted. For Dr. Smoot to be able to say what he said, required the participation and direct involvement (and in most instances funding) of multiple units of local government, several major institutions, a number of State Boards and Commissions and the federal government. Mayors, Council Members, County Supervisors, City and County Administrators, State Senators and Delegates, U.S. Senators and Representatives, State Board Members and many more all had to come together to make this possible and all will need to remain focused and committed to ensure its long-term sustainability.
A Great Asset Highlights a Remaining Challenge
Indeed, this latest addition to our transportation and outdoor recreation inventory is remarkable and valuable. Now for the challenge – should we not put just as much effort into ensuring that the residents in our region are able to similarly travel throughout our region to access employment, shopping, doctors, and recreation? Should we not be just as intentional about enabling a resident living in Cave Spring, Daleville or Fincastle to travel to downtown Roanoke, Main Street in Salem, or Botetourt Center at Greenfield, via publically funded transit as someone from Boston or New York can to McAfee Knob? This should not be viewed as an “either-or” question but rather a “both-and” challenge.
Enabling this type of access will require no less effort and commitment from those same elected and appointed officials, boards, commissions and agencies. Surely, if we can come together to make certain a traveler from New York can utilize public transit to snap a selfie at the top of McAfee Knob, we can do so to make certain a single mom can use transit to get their child to a doctor’s appointment at Carilion Clinic or to get to their job at Altec in Botetourt County, no matter where they live in the region.
How even more profound and remarkable it would be if at the next such celebration, we could say travel around our area was as easy and reliable as travel to our area?
- Bob Cowell