Virginia Lawmakers Approve Gov. Ralph Northam’s Funding Plan for I-81

I-81 at Roanoke, Va.
Traffic on Interstate 81 in Roanoke County, Va. (Virginia Department of Transportation/Flickr)

Virginia’s General Assembly has approved Gov. Ralph Northam’s fundraising suggestions for Interstate 81 improvements.

In late March, Northam proposed an increase in truck registration fees, a hike to the road and diesel tax rates and a regional fuel tax as means of generating funds for Virginia’s interstates, including $150 million for I-81. The state Legislature approved the measures April 3, shortly after reconvening.

A major freight corridor, I-81 runs through Virginia for 325 miles and usually is congested.

“Our investment in transportation will mean stronger connections to opportunity for every Virginian,” Northam said in a statement. “For too long, we have discussed action to make Interstate 81, a major transportation artery, safer and more reliable for all who travel on it and I am pleased we have finally arrived at a solution.”



The registration fee imposed on trucks will vary depending on the weight of the vehicle. For vehicles with a gross weight of 29,001 pounds through 40,000 pounds, the fee will be $10 per 1,000 pounds.

The diesel tax will take effect July 1, 2021. The rate will be 2.03% of the statewide average wholesale price of a gallon of diesel fuel.

The regional fuel tax will pertain to every distributor who sells fuels in any county or city located in the planning districts that border I-81.

The increase in truck registration fees is projected to raise $76 million. The tax hike is supposed to bring in $142 million. The regional fuel tax is anticipated to raise $60 million.

Northam has described I-81 as the “economic Main Street” of southwestern Virginia. More than 11 million trucks travel I-81 per year, hauling $312 billion in goods and facilitating 42% of the state’s interstate truck vehicle miles traveled. More than 2,000 accidents occur on I-81 every year, and 30 of those require more than six hours to clear.

“The General Assembly finds that an adequate, efficient and safe Interstate 81 corridor is essential to the economic well-being of the communities located along the corridor and for the commonwealth,” the amended legislation states. “Due to these conditions and the high volume of truck traffic, the Interstate 81 corridor does not meet the needs of the surrounding communities.”

Northam’s funding proposals were presented as amendments to legislation that was revised Jan. 31 to omit plans for tolls along I-81. The legislation, adapted from Senate Bill 1716 and House Bill 2718, created the I-81 Corridor Improvement Fund but did not propose a funding source.

“At the start of this session, I laid out a vision for Virginia’s long-term success, and I want to thank my colleagues in the General Assembly for their work to make progress on those priorities,” Northam said. “Our focus on the areas where we can agree has yielded meaningful results for the people we serve.”