The roadway has been the site of change and growth for all of its existence, and that trend continues today, especially in the Tanglewood Mall area.
Location: Southwest Roanoke County
When Va. 419 opened as a four-lane state primary road in 1970, it cut through mostly rolling farm land, past a few scattered residences, and provided a better connection with U.S. 220 at its eastern terminus. Dramatic shifts in population to south Roanoke County prompted its construction and the road became a catalyst for significant economic development along its corridor.
Today, Route 419 is buffered by residential developments, strip malls, office buildings, and Roanoke County’s largest retail center, Tanglewood Mall. Tanglewood opened with much fanfare in 1973, becoming the first indoor mall in the county. At the intersection with Brambleton Avenue, Grant Plaza (today’s Cave Spring Corners), anchored by a W.T. Grant store, began in 1970.
During the 1960s and 70s, large swaths of farmland and woods began to be dotted with residences and the subdivision names reflected the geography: Penn Forest, Hunting Hills, Hidden Valley.
The official name for 419 in Salem and Roanoke County is Electric Road, which originated in the mid-1950s when General Electric opened a plant in Salem. However, the road’s history goes back much farther. In the early 1900s, there was the Franklin Turnpike coming out of Roanoke city (today’s Franklin Road) due to its being the primary means to Rocky Mount. Near the Cave Spring area, there was the Roanoke and Floyd Turnpike. This myriad of roads lacked a central connector that could link them, so the two-lane Electric Road was eventually developed.
Route 419 is dotted by19th century historic communities that have now melded into the commercial and residential mix. Ogden, Cave Spring, Starkey and Oak Grove were once rural villages of general mercantile, post offices, clapboard churches and one- and two-room school houses. There were iron ore mines in the Sugar Loaf area dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s. In the 1890s, the Roanoke & Southern Railway built a line through Starkey, erecting a combination station there that served orchardists and farmers in the Cave Spring, Poages Mill and Bent Mountain sections. The railway was later acquired by the Norfolk & Western Railway (now Norfolk Southern).
For this first half of the 20th century, the 419 corridor remained largely unchanged in its agrarian economy and lifestyle. With the move by city residents to the county in the 1960s, the landscape literally changed, as did the need for improved transportation infrastructure.
Today, the Tanglewood Mall area has the highest traffic volume in Roanoke County, according to the county’s planning department. From 220 to Starkey Road, the average daily traffic count for 2015 was 42,000 vehicles. And from Starkey Road to Brambleton Avenue that same year the daily count was 28,000 vehicles. Such high-volume traffic coupled with high-density commercial development has prompted some to refer to Route 419 as “Downtown Roanoke County.”
Presently, the section of 419 from Chapparal Drive to 220 contains more than 260 commercial and residential properties, making the area the busiest economic corridor in Roanoke County.
With the continuous development of the 419 corridor after the road’s four-lane construction in 1970, traffic safety and mobility as well as concerns about a complex patchwork of multiuse residential and business zoning, prompted Roanoke County to begin evaluating a re-design in 1986. Some suggested six lanes. Resistance came from business owners and residents who wanted 419 to retain its boulevard-like appearance.
Another alternative proposed at the time was the creation of a south circumferential highway at a price tag of $186 million. Money and anticipated problems with land acquisition doomed that idea. A story headline in The Roanoker about the 419 concerns at the time asked, “Can 419 retain its boulevard character or will it degenerate into a Williamson Road by 2001?” While minor adjustments were made at certain intersections over the next several years, the problems remained and only grew over time with more strip malls, apartment complexes, and office buildings.