U.S. District Court Hearing on I-81 Plans

On April 6th the U.S. District Court (Western VA) in Charlottesville heard the case filed against VDOT and FHWA to block plans to widen I-81 to eight or more lanes- an expansion to be funded by federal funds and tolls on cars and trucks.

Nine national, state and regional non-profit groups and a Shenandoah County cattle farmer filed the suit in December, 2007. On April 6, their attorney, Andrea Ferster, asked federal judge Norman K. Moon to order federal and state highway officials to preserve options for less costly and destructive alternatives to major highway widening.

Ferster said that FHWA and VDOT “admit that they view this conceptual decision on I-81 widening as a means of blocking any future argument, including legal challenges, to consider a broader range of alternatives when individual projects are advanced on I-81 in the future. Therefore, we argued today that fundamental due process rights were violated when the highway agencies sought to use a statute of limitations notice to make it impossible for landowners or local governments on I-81 to raise questions about whether widening I-81 is the best solution when future projects move forward.”

Ferster also argued that the transportation agencies must reopen the I-81 plan to include the results of a multi-state freight rail study, which was mandated and funded by the Virginia legislature after VDOT failed to include a multi-state rail analysis in the original I-81 environmental study. According to the new study, rail freight improvements for I-81 would cost up to $4 billion and would include significant funding from Norfolk Southern and neighboring states, far less than the $11.4 billion highway widening proposed just for Virginia, which would require tolls on both cars and trucks on I-81.

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