Since 2002, SVN has advocated for targeted, affordable, low-impact solutions for Interstate 81 to address the concerns of anyone and everyone who lives or travels through the Valley – safety and congestion at points along the corridor from Roanoke to Winchester.
In 2007, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approved a plan to widen Interstate 81 to eight or more lanes to the tune of over $11 billion dollars to be paid for by tolls. The plan was broadly opposed by SVN and the public due to its enormous price tag and impacts to local business, homeowners, historic battlefields and natural resources.
And because the improvement plan for I-81 was so costly and damaging, VDOT has not implemented solutions for much of the corridor.
Unfortunately, where projects have been completed they’ve been built to the excessive specifications outlined in the ill-conceived plan and have carried very large price tags – money that would be better spent on targeted, less expensive solutions.
- The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) greatly overestimated the traffic projections that justified the costly and destructive plan to widen I-81 to eight or more lanes through most of the corridor. A 2.2% increase in average weekday traffic was forecasted by VDOT, but actual traffic data only shows a 1.1% increase since 2005.
- When locations of crashes along I-81 are plotted together on a map, it becomes very evident that crashes occur with the most frequency near interchanges or exits. This data supports a targeted plan to improve flow at interchanges rather than large scale widening that would likely add no safety improvements to these areas with high crash volumes.
- Enforcement works! Upon implementation of and enforcement along the I-81 Salem Highway Safety Corridor in early 2004 incidents of crashes decreased significantly from the second year forward and have remained below the high crash rates the stretch of highway was seeing prior to the Safety Corridor designation.
In 2007 the Shenandoah Valley Network released a six-point plan addressing the real needs on I-81 while respecting the communities in the corridor. Dozens of local governments and community groups endorsed the “Reasonable Solutions for the Future of I-81.” A look at today’s I-81 issues and concern reveal these solutions are still the best fit.
Reasonable Solutions for I-81: A Six Point Plan for the Future calls on federal, state and local governments to work cooperatively toward achieving the following goals:
- Complete spot improvements to I-81, such as climbing lanes and redesigned exits, which will improve safety and relieve congestion. Data should support the need and type of each improvement, many of which are identified in earlier VDOT studies.
- Use the highway’s median for improvements to limit the encroachment of the road on private property and to avoid further impacts on adjacent landowners, communities, farmland, battlefields and tourism.
- Significantly step up law enforcement to improve safety.
- Incorporate meaningful transit options for both urban and rural areas in road improvement plans. Coordinate with cities, local governments, major employers and universities.
- Pursue implementation of a rail component for a balanced transportation system that would increase options for freight capacity, maintain economic competitiveness and avoid air quality and congestion problems as road use grows.
- Provide funding for land acquisition to mitigate impacts of I-81 on cultural resources in the corridor, most notably battlefields.