I-81 negotiations continue in Virginia

| Thursday, February 17, 2005

A Virginia Senate panel won’t halt negotiations over a $13 billion proposal to widen Interstate 81.

The Senate Transportation Committee tabled the measure Feb. 3 saying that intervening so late in the process could hamper future public-private road projects.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, would require the Virginia Department of Transportation to suspend talks with Star Solutions, a consortium of contractors that has proposed widening all 325 miles of the interstate in the state to eight lanes, until it received the express authorization of the General Assembly to proceed.

Hanger pledged after the vote to continue trying to scale back the group’s proposal.

The project would be financed with federal and state money as well as tolls on trucks. Car tolls also have been mentioned.

Hangar said he was not opposed to public-private deals. But he said he’s convinced that the “overwhelming majority” of western Virginia residents believe the I-81 project is too large, too costly and may never get built because of environmental concerns.

“I am convinced … that this project is not going forward,” Hanger told The Roanoke Times afterward. “The sooner we put a stop to these negotiations and the plan that they are currently entering into, the quicker we can make some actual improvements to the road.”

Representatives from the trucking and shipping associations as well as several local elected officials from the I-81 corridor spoke in favor of the bill – SB1319.

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