RICHMOND, VA (AP) A proposal to widen Interstate 81 through Virginia will be shelved in favor of safety changes such as truck-climbing lanes, according to a state transportation department recommendation.
The idea of an eight-lane highway with tolls on truck-only lanes won’t work and “is not being advanced,” said Pierce Homer, state transportation secretary.
The Virginia Department of Transportation presented the recommendation Sept. 21 in Norfolk to the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which will consider the recommendation at its October meeting.
Star Solutions, a coalition of seven construction firms, has been seeking funding installments to get the 325-mile widening under way. The widening project would cost $11 billion and take about 15 years to complete.
Instead of the eight-lane upgrade that has been studied for three years, the transportation planners said Virginia needs to move faster on I-81 by making safety improvements such as the climbing lanes and longer ramps at a few interchanges. Proposed truck-only tolls, intended to pay for the widening, would also be abandoned.
“It’s about time,” said Jay Smith, a spokesman for the trucking industry, which has fought the concept since it was proposed in 2002 by Star Solutions.
Homer said Virginia needs to use $140 million it got from Congress last year in the federal transportation bill. The first I-81 studies were done 10 years ago and the current round of studies has been under way three years, he said.
Trip Pollard of the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charlottesville said his group favors immediate safety improvements and suggested they be approved without the board’s full agreement on an environmental statement.
The interstate runs through West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. The state has upgraded the highway in recent years.