Interstate 81 on the western side of Virginia traces the natural path forged by Appalachian Mountains for the 325 miles it runs through Virginia from the border of West Virginia in the north and Tennessee in the south. Lining the Shenandoah Valley, it was previously a route traveled by Native Americans, migrating animals, and early settlers. During the Civil War it was utilized by military troops from both the Confederacy and the Union making their way to the West. Now, however, it is a heavily-used trucking corridor that creates an alternative path for 18-wheelers making their way south to deliver goods.
For years, the aging asphalt of Interstate 81 has needed improvements. Congestion around Winchester, Harrisonburg, and Roanoke are just a few of the concerns for the highway that is also met with much-needed general infrastructure upgrades. With a new Senate bill coming from the Virginia General Assembly, the well-traveled highway could be renewed by funding those who purchase fuel along the corridor and even tolls.
Senate Bill 971, introduced by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), will create the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan. The program will allow the Commonwealth Transportation Board to develop and adopt a program set to fix roadways, alleviate congestion, and provide for better safety for travelers. Also, the Board will discuss financing options for Interstate 81 corridor improvements.
According to a report from WTOP, the legislation could set up a new regional gas tax in western Virginia that will pay for roadway repairs. As well, it could create potential tolls on cars and/or trucks to pay for corridor improvements on Interstate 81. On Tuesday, the Virginia Senate passed the bill by a vote of 24-16.
The bill would create the Western Virginia Transportation Fund. The legislation would offer a 2.1 percent tax per sale on fuel wholesalers in western Virginia to pay for Interstate 81 repairs and other transportation needs in the region. Approval from the House of Delegates is still needed.
Members of the General Assembly have also called on Congress to assist with Interstate 81 repairs. Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte (VA-6) claims that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is the best avenue to follow for infrastructure concerns.
Since 2003, VDOT has had a conditional provisional acceptance to toll trucks on Interstate 81 under the Federal Highway Administration Interstate Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program.
The News Virginian reports Goodlatte wrote in a letter to Virginia lawmakers, “I believe that VDOT continues to serve as the best entity to fairly evaluate, create, and execute strategies to address infrastructure needs across the commonwealth using both state and federal funding.” Furthermore, the congressman has been in contact with U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to support Virginia’s $52.9 million grant application to improve the Interstate 81 corridor.
In reference to President Donald Trump’s newly revealed infrastructure program, Delegate Steve Landes (R-Weyers Cave) claims that he would like Interstate 81 repairs to be addressed in the national infrastructure proposal. “Interstate 81 is a high priority for both public safety and commerce,” said Delegate Landes.
With the plan laid out, accomplishing infrastructure rebuild will undoubtedly involve public-private partnerships, known as P3s. The $200 billion in federal infrastructure spending will mostly come in the form of competitive grants designed to encourage outlays by local authorities on transportation systems. The Trump Administration plans to use the federal funds as “seed” money, bolstered by investments from the private sector.