Officials Talk I-81 Projects, Funding

By IAN MUNRO
Daily News-Record  10/5/19
 
HARRISONBURG — With Interstate 81 improvements already underway, the Virginia Department of Transportation lead for the I-81 work, Dave Covington, joined Del. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway, a member of the Interstate 81 committee, for a Daily News- Record podcast Friday to discuss funding and what to expect on the roadway in coming months.
 
Projects
Some examples of improvements include enhancement to safety service patrols, along with flashing chevron signs in Botetourt, Pulaski Rockbridge and Shenandoah counties at curves with high crash frequency, Covington said.
“We’ve seen pretty dramatic reductions in crashes, anywhere from 30 to 40%,” he said.
Safety improvements are also congestion improvements, Covington said.
Engineering for expanding the interstate to three lanes between Exit 243 and Exit 248 is slated to begin early 2020, Wilt said, and VDOT is looking at climbing lanes around Weyers Cave.
 
Funding
The final form of the I-81 improvement package that was signed by Gov. Ralph Northam earlier this year included a regional gas tax, along with increased fees
on tractor-trailers and other revenue streams. The 2.1% gas tax went into effect on July 1.
Some localities, such as Bath, Bland, Carroll, Grayson, Floyd and Page counties have adopted resolutions in opposition to the regional fuel tax due to their distance from I- 81, and other counties are also considering it, according to reports from the Roanoke Times.
“I think that the counties have the right to voice their opinions, and we’ll see what happens,” Covington said. “I’m sure depending on what happens — unless it’s nothing — that there might be some impact on I-81 and we’ll adjust.”
Many projects need to begin upfront, especially in the Salem area, Covington said.
“We’re at a crossroads here — do we go down a pay as-you-go as the tax revenue comes in or do you go down the route of bonding,” he said.
Bonding would allow many of the projects to receive funding “up front” and the state would pay them off over time, Covington said.
“We were at a tipping point where I-81 was getting serious enough that we were really standing to lose businesses that are considering to locate in Virginia and especially in the 81 corridor,” Wilt said.