Interstate 81 Lawsuit Update

By: Kelly Creswell Email
By: Kelly Creswell Email

As Interstate 81 becomes more congested, the Virginia Department of Transportation has been searching for ways to accommodate car and tractor trailer traffic.

On the last day possible for legal action against plans to widen the interstate at certain stretches, several Valley conservation groups have filed a lawsuit. They claim the Federal Highway Administration violated the National Environmental Protection Act by not doing enough research on other possibilities to ease the congestion on I-81.

Since the lawsuit has been filed, the conservation groups hope that this will force VDOT to go back and do some more studies, looking for other options.

One of the options included in the current plans for expanding the Interstate is adding a bypass and one of the two possibilities for a bypass would be in Harrisonburg.

"We understand that when you build new roads, or you improve roads, some lands is going to be taken. So you want to marginalize that as best you can," says Billy Kyger, Chairman for the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors.

With the recent lawsuit halting the possibility of widening Interstate 81, the area in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County is one of two places where some plans for a potential bypass may have a great impact.

"In the study, if you read it, it says that they have not looked at the impact of the bypass because they haven't determined the location of it yet," says Kim Sandum, the Community Alliance for Preservation President. "And yet, they're going to make a decision to do a bypass and then they're going to look at the impacts of the bypass."

But a VDOT spokesperson says the two spots were identified as needing a closer look.

"In the first study that we completed, called the Tier One Environmental Impact Statement, two areas were identified that would have to be looked at closer for possible relocation. It doesn't mean that any decisions have been made," says Laura Southard.

The county has wrestled with this potential bypass for years, and it still stands on its position of making spot improvements because they would be quicker and less intrusive on city and county land.

"The first proposals that came out, they were going to add two lanes north and south, and we're not really sure that it's necessary. If they can take a certain percentage of trucks off the road and put them on high speed intermotal, we believe that's going to be a better way all around, in environmental quality as well as moving freight quicker," says Kyger.

Anything improvements that would come to 81 would still have to go through intense study and a public comment period. VDOT says there is no time frame for looking at the section in Harrisonburg. VDOT also says that not building at all is another option.


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