Virginia senators request funding for I-81 improvements

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Virginia's Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner sent a pair of letters on Monday calling for more federal funding to fix Interstate 81's Virginia stretch.

In the letters, which were sent to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the U.S. Department of Public Transportation, Kaine and Warner emphasized the importance of I-81 for commerce up and down the East Coast (about half of Virginia's entire value of goods is transported along I-81) and stressed a need for federal dollars to tackle long-needed repairs.

They also asked the Department of Transportation to approve VDOT's request for federal grant funding.

“While improvements have been made in past years to keep up with the growth, I-81 continues to experience heavy congestion and dangerous conditions, which have degraded the corridor,” the letter to DOT Secretary Elaine Chao reads. “The proposal put forth by VDOT will undoubtedly transform and improve the lives of many Virginians who travel the interstate every day. Furthermore, upgrades and repairs will improve the safety of those traveling through the Commonwealth.”

In their letter to the Committee on Environment and Public Works, they asked for funding for interstate improvement projects on I-81 to be included in the next big surface transportation bill.

“As you continue to draft the surface transportation reauthorization bill, we urge you to include as much funding as possible for major, high priority interstate improvements projects such as I-81 in Virginia,” the letter reads. “Robust funding through formula programs, as well as additional competitive grant programs like BUILD and INFRA, will be necessary to achieve funding goals for this, and other major projects that involve improvements to hundreds of miles of major interstate arteries.”

Earlier this year, state politicians, especially including those from the Shenandoah Valley, wrote to Virginia's congressional delegation, including Kaine and Warner, pleading for federal assistance.

Virginia lawmakers voted to approve higher truck registration fees and gas tax increases along the I-81 corridor to fund necessary improvements for the interstate, but even so, Delegate Steve Landes said there will still be a deficit of $2.2 billion that the federal government could help fill.

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

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 here.

More than one-third of all trucks that drive through Virginia and approximately half of the Commonwealth’s value of goods are transported along I-81, which has seen growing traffic for over a decade without any major improvements.

More than 2,000 crashes happen a year along the route.

In the spring, Congressman Ben Cline (VA-06) testified 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.

You can find their letter to the Department of Transportation here and their letter to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works here.