Thoughts of adding truck-only lanes and the tolls that would come with
them along Interstate 81 in Virginia appear to have been parked. Instead, a
push is expected for expanding freight rail lines along the corridor to take
trucks off the road.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board was presented a plan last week
from state highway officials that would trim improvements on I-81 to speed them
up. The board is expected to vote on the plan Oct. 11.
The Virginia Department of Transportation plan drops the proposed
widening of all 325 miles of the interstate in the state to eight lanes.
VDOT officials said the state needs to move more swiftly on the
corridor by making safety improvements that would include more truck-climbing
lanes on mountains and longer ramps at a few interchanges, The Associated Press reported.
Officials with the agency said changes are needed to cope with truck
traffic that is expected to triple on I-81 by 2035 while the number of cars is
likely to double.
With that in mind, a Northern Virginia lawmaker has introduced three
pieces of legislation to address safety and ease congestion along the route
during a special session on transportation that starts Wednesday, Sept. 27.
Delegate Ben Cline, R-Amherst, is looking to advance efforts that are
aimed at widening some segments of the interstate, increasing the number of
state troopers patrolling the corridor, and promoting rail improvements to
divert some of the freight now being hauled by trucks.
The first bill – HB5073 – would tap private groups to speed
construction of limited third lanes for truck climbing on steep stretches along
The bill also would halt VDOT from considering a proposal from a road
builders consortium, dubbed Star Solutions, to add two separate truck lanes in
both directions to run the length of the roadway in the state.
Another bill – HB5074 – would require the Virginia State Police to add
10 additional troopers to patrol the corridor. Another 20 would patrol
Interstates 64 and 95.
One other bill – HB5075 – would provide tax credits for rail companies
that improve their lines for intermodal freight transport.
Gov. Tim Kaine and Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer have
expressed support for expanding freight rail service as part of an overall
solution for the interstate, The News Leader in Staunton, VA, reported.
“We are committed to a balanced approach for improving I-81,” Kaine
said in a written statement. “A comprehensive strategy must prioritize safety
improvements and include enhanced freight rail service.”
Homer and VDOT officials say two studies show that rail upgrades could
take 2 percent to 3 percent of the truck traffic off the corridor.