Approval of a federally required study that lays the groundwork for future improvements to Interstate 81 in Virginia has been granted by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
The agency issued its opinion in a Record of Decision (ROD), which is posted at www.I-81.org.
“This stamp of approval from the federal government meshes with our overall strategy for the Interstate 81 corridor,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer. “We’re working toward adding truck climbing lanes, which many people have requested, and there is money in the governor’s financial plan to make spot safety improvements. We’re also working cooperatively with Norfolk Southern Railway to fund short-term rail and to study long-term rail improvements. With the Record of Decision, we are taking the next step in evaluating future highway improvements.”
The ROD documents FHWA’s decisions about the I-81 Tier I Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), produced by VDOT and FHWA as part of a three-year study of the 325-mi. (523 km) corridor. The Tier I study identified current and future transportation problems, and then evaluated dozens of possible solutions involving road improvements, rail improvements, truck separation, tolling and many combinations.
“This decision advances several I-81 initiatives that were unanimously endorsed by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) last fall,” said Commonwealth Transportation Commissioner David Ekern, who also serves as vice chair of the CTB. “We thought long and hard about highway and rail improvements in the I-81 corridor before devising a multi-faceted strategy.”
In October 2006, the CTB endorsed a future widening concept for I-81 that would add not more than one or two general purpose lanes in each direction only where needed. The CTB also directed the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to implement a program of safety and operational improvements to existing I-81, including truck climbing lanes and on- and off-ramp extensions.
In addition, the CTB directed the Department of Rail and Public Transportation to conduct a multi-state Freight Rail Study in cooperation with Norfolk Southern Railway to help determine the level of rail improvements that would be needed to divert a maximum amount of truck traffic from I-81. Results of that study should be available later this year.
The governor’s budget includes up to $40 million for rail improvements to serve the I-81 corridor.
The CTB also directed VDOT to continue the I-81 federal tolling application, and the ROD supports that action.