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Community weighs in on ways to improve Interstate 81

(WHSV)
Published: Jun. 14, 2018 at 1:23 AM EDT
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A study team held several public meetings this week to get feedback on ways to improve Interstate 81 in Virginia.

The study is being conducted by the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation to see which areas along the entire interstate could be improved to reduce accidents and increase the traffic flow.

It's a result of a bill passed by the General Assembly

, proposed by local Sen. Mark Obenshain.

The bill was passed unanimously in the Virginia Senate and on a 85-3 vote in the House before being signed by Gov. Ralph Northam on April 4.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has reported a 12% increase in traffic on I-81 around Harrisonburg in the past five years, and delays have increased by 55%. But community and industry feedback will play a large part in VDOT's next decisions.

Along with

, VDOT and lawmakers are also studying potential revenue sources, including truck-only tolls, to help raise money to fix I-81.

On Wednesday, the public got to share their comments at a public meeting at Blue Ridge Community College in Weyers Cave.

"I'd like to see getting more of the truck traffic off the highway and diverting it onto rail as much as we can," said resident Malcolm Cameron.

Local trucking companies have weighed in on the problems with the interstate too, telling WHSV that the possibility of truck tolls

.

"The most important for Augusta County is exit 235. On exit 235, we have a significant number of accidents. A lot of back-up, a lot of traffic already," added Augusta County Supervisor Marshall Pattie.

That's the exit for Weyers Cave. When crashes block northbound traffic in that area, backups can very quickly reach lengths of several miles, because there is a 7-mile gap between that point and the next closest exit, 227 in Verona.

Many people have suggested adding a third or up to four lanes to the interstate through the Valley. But,

, widening the interstate would cost an estimated 10 to 15 million dollars for every mile of payment.

VDOT will take all of information gathered at the meetings, review it, then come back in August with short term and long term project plans to present at a public hearing. They will meet again in October to present funding for the projects.

VDOT hopes to have a plan completed by the end of the year to present to the General Assembly.

There is one more public feedback meeting on June 14 at the Holiday Inn Valley View in Roanoke from 4-7 p.m.

If you missed all the meetings, you can provide comments through an online mapping tool

, by sending an e-mail to VA81CorridorPlan@OIPI.Virginia.gov, calling 804-786-2971, or sending written mail to Attn: Ben Mannell, 1401 E. Broad St., Richmond, Virginia 23219.

Comments will be taken until August 6.