The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) greatly overestimated the traffic projections that justify the costly and destructive plan to widen I-81 to eight or more lanes through most of the corridor, according to a study commissioned by SVN and presented to the Northern I-81 Legislative Caucus at its second annual briefing in Richmond in February 2014.
The I-81 plan forecast a traffic volume of 23 percent between 2003 and 2012. In reality, traffic volume dropped by an average of five percent over this period, according to the study by Smart Mobility Inc. transportation consultants.
“The apparent insistence of VDOT in ignoring current traffic trends and current research and instead assuming that traffic growth is going to not only return to rates observed 20 years ago, but also to catch up from the past no-growth decade, is without any basis. VDOT needs realistic traffic forecasts for the study area. It appears highly unlikely that realistic traffic forecasts will justify widening I-81, “ states the Smart Mobility report.
The Northern I-81 Legislative Caucus meets annually during the General Assembly session to explore alternatives to the state’s $11.4 billion I-81 plan. SVN Executive Director Kate Wofford and Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation Conservation Director John D. Hutchinson V outlined the findings from Smart Mobility and documented how the major I-81 widening plan is driving up the cost of corridor improvements.
SVN is calling on state transportation officials to reopen the I-81 plan, fix the flawed traffic projections and reconsider less costly alternatives with fewer negative impacts, such as smaller scale safety and congestion improvements on the highway, increased rail freight to divert trucks from I-81, increased speed limit and safety enforcement, and improved local road networks to connect to I-81.