Overview & Early Construction
Interstate 581 (I-581 for short) is actually not a full interstate, but rather a spur off of Interstate 81. A spur route is a short road forming a branch from a longer road.
I-81 was constructed in Virginia mainly as a four lane freeway as part of the United States Interstate Highway System. It rests on top of the Indian Warrior's Path (AKA the Shendoah Hunting Path). By the mid-1700s, colonial settlers treated the path as part of the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road, with one branch splitting off towards present day Roanoke, which was called Big Lick at the time. What is present-day US Route 220 was constructed in 1935 from this path. Likewise, I-581 completely overlaps US 220.
While I-81 was constructed mainly between 1957 and 1971, the City of Roanoke didn't begin seriously planning I-581 until the 1960's (see video below). In that time, the City engaged in what is known as Urban Renewal, whereby they received funding in exchange for displacing unprivileged families from their homes and in some cases, destroying their communities. While some argue that the economic impact speaks for itself, data, archival material, and the voices of Roanokers paint a different picture.
Next, we'll give you a little history on urban renewal.
Digital Scholarship Lab, “Renewing Inequality,” American Panorama, ed. Robert K. Nelson and Edward L. Ayers, accessed December 1, 2020, https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/renewal/#view=0/0/1&viz=cartogram.
"Economic Development History of Interstate 81 in Virginia," Federal Highway Administration, https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/economic_development/studies/i81va.cfm (accessed December 1, 2020).
Federal, State, and City Officials Meet to Discuss Possible Routes for the I-81 Spur At Kingston. 1961. From WSLS-TV Roanoke, Va., News Film Collection, 1951-1971. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Library, v3.lib.virginia.edu/catalog/uva-lib:2252184.
Harris, Nelson. 2018. “Streets of Roanoke: Interstate 581.” TheRoanoker.Com. January 2, 2018. https://theroanoker.com/magazine/departments/streets-of-roanoke-interstate-581/.
Path Cleared for Interstate Highway. 1962. From WSLS-TV Roanoke, Va., News Film Collection, 1951-1971. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Library, v3.lib.virginia.edu/catalog/uva-lib:2239005.
Page written by Jonathan A. LLoyd