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Virginia lawmakers ask Congress for help with funding for I-81 improvements

Senator Emmett Hanger, Sen. Mark Obenshain, Delegate Tony Wilt, and Del. Steve Landes.
Senator Emmett Hanger, Sen. Mark Obenshain, Delegate Tony Wilt, and Del. Steve Landes.(WHSV)
Published: May. 10, 2019 at 5:36 PM EDT
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Delegate Steve Landes and 15 other members of the Virginia General Assembly have written to members of Virginia's congressional delegation asking for assistance with safety improvements and congestion relief on Interstate 81.

Landes says a funding mechanism was provided for the improvements that are needed at the state level, but there is still a deficit of $2.2 billion.

Last month, Virginia lawmakers

higher truck registration fees and gas tax increases along the I-81 corridor to fund necessary improvements for the interstate.

The motor fuels tax will go up 2.1 percent, amounting to about 7 cents a gallon.

In addition, the measure stablished dedicated funding of $151 million for 81, but also $40 million for I-95, $28 million for I-64, and and $20 million for the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.

The money raised through the taxes will go into a dedicated fund called the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Fund, which will then be used to pay for repairs VDOT determined were necessary after a year of public meetings. You can find a list of those repairs in the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan

.

Landes says now is the time for Congress to step up to the plate and provide the funding still lacking, as 81 has become a dangerous road.

Last week, Congressman Ben Cline (VA-06)

before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to advocate for funding for Interstate 81.

During testimony, Cline said I-81 is in dire need of funding for repairs to ease congestion and improve safety.

Landes feels it's been made very clear how important this issue is to Virginians.

"The members of the U.S. Senate that represent Virginia have heard loud and clear from many parts of Virginia that they want something done about Interstate 81. So hopefully we'll get a different result now that we have some new members."

The text of the letter says "Interstate 81 has become a dangerous and unreliable road that has caused unnecessary loss of life, revenue, and economic opportunity." He added "One of the things we heard early on was that Virginia needs to do something if it's going to try and solve part of that problem. Well Virginia is doing something, now the United States government needs to do something as well."

Landes says

, they didn't get much of a response. But with new members in Congress, including former local delegate Ben Cline, he has hope for a different outcome this time around.

The other signatories on the letter are Senators Bill Carrico, Ben Chafin, Creigh Deeds, John Edwards, Emmett Hanger, and Mark Obenshain, along with Delegates Terry Austin, Ronnie Campbell, Chris Collins, Chris Hurst, Terry Kilgore, Steve Landes, Dave LaRock, Todd Pillion, Sam Rasoul, and Tony Wilt.

It's addressed to Dave LaRock, Todd Pillion, Sam Rasoul, and Tony Wilt were signatories of the letter sent to U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, as well as Congressmen Ben Cline, Morgan Griffith and Jennifer Wexton.

You can find the full letter below:

Dear Senator Warner, Senator Kaine, Representative Griffith, Representative Cline and Representative Wexton: This past session the Virginia General Assembly determined that funding was necessary to improve Interstate 81 as well as the other interstates within our Commonwealth. Through bipartisan compromise, the General Assembly agreed to support these projects by increasing truck registration fees and raising the regional gas tax along the I-81 corridor as well as Virginia’s wholesale diesel rates. Statewide, total revenue raised in the first year is estimated to be $150 million, with the amount increasing to $280 million annually by Virginia’s Fiscal Year 2022. This increase is based on a three-year phase-in of the diesel fuels tax, allowing the trucking industry to adjust its rate schedules accordingly. These newly implemented funding streams will do much to address the repairs, updates and upgrades necessary to ensure that our constituents and commerce in Virginia are safe to travel in a reliable manner. During this process, it was determined that the funds appropriated should be allocated based on the proportionality of tractor trailer traffic traveling along each highway. With forty-one percent of such traffic traveling along Interstate 81, these statewide provisions are projected to generate $90 million in the first year and increase to $150 million annually when fully implemented. I-81 is a major artery for the east coast of the United States. Unfortunately, this 50’s era highway has become notorious within Virginia for its unreliable nature. It currently averages forty-five accidents per year that cause delays of four hours or more. In short, Interstate 81 has become a dangerous and unreliable road that has caused unnecessary loss of life, revenue, and economic opportunity. These new revenues will accommodate funding for the $2.2 billion necessary for the high priority improvements. However, these fixes are not a panacea, and this is not solely a regional or statewide issue. Our interstate highway system is by definition a national matter. Interstate 81, in its 325-mile entirety within Virginia, was identified with $4 billion in needed improvements. These much-needed improvements deserve funding that will only continue to improve the safety, reliability, and dependability of this highway. Because Interstate 81 serves as a major east coast commerce corridor, we feel that this endeavor is in the best economic interest of the nation and therefore urge you to secure federal funding to subsidize these improvements. Thank you for your consideration,