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The Roanoke Valley in southwest Virginia is an area adjacent to and including the Roanoke River between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Appalachian Plateau to the west. The valley includes much of Roanoke County, and two independent cities; Roanoke City and Salem.
The Roanoke Valley is about twenty miles (32 km) long, from the Roanoke River gorge near Virginia's Explore Park in the east to Shawsville in the west, and as much as ten miles (16 km) wide around Roanoke City though the width is closer to five miles (8 km) in most areas. The Roanoke Valley is part of the valley and ridge province of Virginia, which also includes the Shenandoah Valley to the northeast and the New River Valley to the southwest. The Roanoke Valley is bound to the west by a ridgeline commonly known as Christiansburg Mountain, to the north by a ridgeline formed by Fort Lewis Mountain and Brushy Mountain, and to the southwest by a ridgeline formed by Poor Mountain and adjacent peaks in the Blue Ridge, which also forms the east and southeast boundaries of the valley. However, this area generally features isolated peaks and wide gaps, with the notable exception of the aforementioned gorge, instead of continuous ridgelines. Historically, the Roanoke Valley was an important fork on the Great Wagon Road, with one branch leading to the Carolina Piedmont region and the other branch, the Wilderness Road, leading to Tennessee and Kentucky.
The Roanoke Valley is sometimes synonymous with the Roanoke Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is made up of the political subdivisions of Roanoke City, Salem, Roanoke County, Botetourt County, Franklin County, and Craig County. Adjacent communities such as western Bedford County (part of the Lynchburg MSA) and eastern Montgomery County (part of the New River Valley MSA) are also often considered parts of the Roanoke Valley. More frequently, the Roanoke Valley refers to the core urban and suburban areas, generally Roanoke City, Salem, Roanoke County within the geographic Roanoke Valley, and southern Botetourt County; however, areas of Franklin County and Bedford County near Smith Mountain Lake are becoming increasingly suburban.
In a political context, the Roanoke Valley usually refers collectively to Roanoke City, Salem, and Roanoke County. Some governmental functions are consolidated. For example, there is a regional sewer authority and Roanoke Regional Airport is governed by a regional commission. Salem is generally more reluctant to participate in these efforts than Roanoke City and Roanoke County. Botetourt County also participates in some efforts such as the regional library system. Whether more functions should be provided on a consolidated basis, or if the governments should be consolidated, is an often discussed issue. Consolidation referendums in 1969 and 1990 failed because of the opposition of voters in Roanoke County. The issue has remained dormant since the 1990 referendum.
The Roanoke Valley contains the lowest point above sea level in the mountains of southwest Virginia. As a result, the Norfolk and Western Railway chose the valley as its primary route between the ports of Hampton Roads in eastern Virginia and the coal fields of southwest Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky. The Norfolk and Western was headquartered in Roanoke for nearly a century before merging with the Southern Railway; the newly merged Norfolk Southern's corporate headquarters moved to Norfolk. The railroad remains a major employer in the valley.