Environmental group concerned about one-size-fits-all approach to I-81

The news from Thursday that the Virginia Department of Transportation is initiating environmental work related to Interstate 81 widening in the Roanoke Valey was met with some concern by a Shenandoah Valley environmental group.

The Shenandoah Valley Network and its partners recognize the need for widening in the 25-mile stretch of I-81 between Roanoke and Christiansburg. “But we remain deeply concerned about how VDOT’s one-size-fits-all approach to I-81 improvements – major widening to eight or more lanes through most of the corridor – will impact rural communities, farms, battlefields and local economies in the Shenandoah Valley,” said Kate Wofford, the executive director of the Shenandoah Valley Network, in a press statement on Thursday.

“VDOT officials have long reassured Shenandoah Valley elected leaders, business owners, and local reporters that the federally-approved 2007 plan for massive highway widening on I-81 will never happen due to cost and a lack of tolling authority,” Wofford said.

The Thursday announcement marks the second time the state has moved forward with implementation of the 2007 expansion plan. Truck climbing lanes were added in Rockbridge and Montgomery Counties that conform to the plans call for maximum widening on the corridor, Wofford noted.

“There are other less costly and destructive options to address safety problems and congestion hot spots on I-81 in the Shenandoah Valley,” Wofford said. “Local governments and civic groups have long supported alternatives: specific road improvements at safety and congestion hot spots, continued investments in rail networks to accommodate more through truck traffic and freight, greater safety enforcement and better local road planning to avoid channeling commuters to the interstate. These affordable and reasonable solutions should not have been rejected in favor of a sole approach, highway widening, in the 2007 plan.”


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