Poll: Majority of I-81 drivers do not feel safe, support improvements

Published: Dec. 17, 2018 at 5:51 PM EST
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A majority of drivers who live along Interstate 81 and use the roadway do not feel safe while traveling on it and want state lawmakers to approve a funding plan to make improvements, according to a new poll.

The survey of 500 registered voters was conducted by Alexandria-based Public Opinion Strategies and the Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance — an advocacy group which represents contractors and engineers who build and maintain the state's transportation network.

When asked to give Interstate 81 a letter grade, around 80 percent gave the roadway a score of C or worse. Fifty-six percent said they do not feel safe while traveling along the interstate, compared to 43 percent who said they do.

Earlier this month, the Commonwealth Transportation Board

, which would involve spending billions of dollars in projects. Earlier this year, the General Assembly instructed several state agencies — including the Virginia Department of Transportation — to study the entire length of the interstate in Virginia and identify potential fixes and sources of funding.

The poll found 88 percent of voters — representing Democrats, Republicans and Independents — favor an investment of at least $2 billion in Interstate 81. A toll on freight trucks was the most popular option for funding the fixes, followed by tax increases on gas and purchases along the corridor.

Del. Steve Landes (R-25th District) said action from state lawmakers during the upcoming 2019 session is "very likely."

"One of the things that we're trying to determine is which of the sources 1) has public support — and obviously the poll showed kind of what people's preferences are on that — and then 2) how much are those resources going to generate to take care of the $2 billion problem that VDOT is proposing," the Republican said, adding he and his colleagues had met with Governor Ralph Northam and Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine.

Here are some other key findings from the survey:

— Nearly 70 percent said an improvement plan should be implemented by the General Assembly in 2019

— Three-quarters of voters would be more likely to back a legislator who supported funding improvements along I-81

— Two-thirds say they travel the roadway at least weekly or more often

Jeff Southard, the executive vice president of VTCA, said on Monday the advocacy group supports a $2 billion package to improve the roadway, but they believe drivers should be able to decide how to do so.