A Shenandoah County resident and a coalition of conservation groups working in the northern Shenandoah Valley filed suit December 17 in federal district court to prevent the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration from implementing a plan to widen I-81 to eight or more lanes, an expansion to be funded by federal funds and tolls on cars and trucks.
Larry Allamong, a Fishers Hill farmer, joined with the Shenandoah Valley Network and the Coalition for Smarter Growth in the complaint lodged in US District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Charlottesville. Additional plaintiffs are expected to sign on to the suit. The plaintiffs are asking the court to prevent VDOT and FHWA from moving forward with the project until the agencies have corrected the plan’s fundamental flaws.
The plaintiffs object to the plan’s emphasis on widening the highway to the exclusion of less costly and more efficient alternatives that have been endorsed by citizens and local governments throughout the corridor. VDOT’s plan would widen I-81 to eight to 12 lanes through most of the state, a project that would cost Valley residents, businesses and American taxpayers an estimated $11.4 billion.
The lawsuit also asserts that the plan’s concept for I-81 “will result in significant, irreversible, adverse effects on natural, scenic, cultural, historic and ecological resources, communities and property owners.” It notes that VDOT’s plan for I-81 would destroy 7,400 acres of developed land; 1,062 acres of prime farmland; between 1,600 and 2,400 residences; 662 businesses; 1,238 acres of Civil War battlefields; 33 acres of wetlands; 361 acres of floodplains; 23 miles of streams; and 13 threatened or endangered species.