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May 30, 2018 10:30 AM, EDT

Public Input Wanted for Virginia’s I-81 Improvement Study

Virginia Interstate 81 Interstate 81 near Roanoke, Va., carries heavy traffic. (Virginia Department of Transportation/Flickr)

Virginia transportation officials have planned a series of meetings in June to gather public feedback as their study of the Interstate 81 corridor takes shape.

Virginia’s Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, Department of Transportation and Department of Rail and Public Transportation were directed by Senate Bill 971 to complete an I-81 Corridor Improvement Plan. Introduced by state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) Jan. 19, SB 971 commissions a study that will chart future improvements for the route and identify a funding source to generate more revenue. Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill into law April 4.

Mark Obenshain

Obenshain

In order to collect public feedback from communities that straddle I-81, the state’s transportation agencies are hosting meetings June 6 in Abingdon, June 12 in Strasburg, June 13 in Weyers Cave and June 14 in Roanoke.

“Feedback provided by members of communities, industries and other stakeholders will be considered as team members study the corridor throughout the summer and prepare a draft plan report in the fall,” VDOT states in a press release issued May 25. “The team and the Commonwealth Transportation Board plan to report findings to the General Assembly in December, prior to the opening of session in January 2019.”

The Commonwealth Transportation Board is a 17-member group, appointed by the governor, that allocates highway funding, designates routes and funds airports, seaports and public transportation.

The interstate runs through Virginia for 325 miles and is an important freight route. According to VDOT’s technical report on I-81, those miles see about 12,010 heavy vehicles a day.

Virginia Department of Transportation logo

The law charges the Commonwealth Transportation Board and the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment to study the feasibility of truck tolls along I-81. According to the legislation, I-81 carries 42% of all the truck vehicle miles traveled on interstate highways in Virginia, and in 2016 there were more than 2,000 crashes on the route. Some 30 of these crashes took more than six hours to clear, and losing one lane of traffic due to a crash reduces highway capacity by 65%.

The I-81 improvement plan was officially launched at the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s monthly meeting May 16.

“This corridor is critical to the economic vitality of the Bristol, Salem and Staunton districts, and to our entire commonwealth,” Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine said in a press release May 16 issued by VDOT. “The study’s focus on safety, reliability and resiliency is vital to trucking, business and manufacturing sectors.”

Valentine also announced that Lynn McDaniel would serve as director of the newly created Office of Transportation Innovation. The new office will be housed within the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment. Its main focus will be coordinating innovation among the other transportation agencies, which include Aviation, the Department of Rail and Public Transportation, the Virginia Port Authority, VDOT and the Department of Motor Vehicles. The office will also work on connected corridors and unmanned systems.

“Transportation is at a critical juncture that will require nimble navigation of technology and innovation,” Transportation Deputy Secretary Nicholas Donohue said. “Lynn’s combination of experience and business acuity will ensure continued success and propel our efforts forward.”