Landes, Obenshain bills address Interstate 81 improvements

interstate 81Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, and State Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, have introduced bills in the Virginia General Assembly to create an Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Program.

The bills establish an Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Fund supported by user fees assessed on Interstate 81 and restrict the use of revenues in the fund to improvements identified in the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan adopted in December 2018.

An Interstate 81 Committee with 13 voting members and 2 ex-officio members would provide oversight and recommendations to the CTB.

The CTB would be authorized to impose user fees on Interstate 81 subject to certain restrictions, including caps on the fees, and collection would be through all-electronic means.

“Residents across the 25th District and throughout the Interstate 81 corridor have made it crystal clear that the time to act on Interstate 81 is now. We need safety improvements and congestion relief on Interstate 81 and House Bill 2718 will help move the process forward,” said Landes. “I appreciate the work done by Del. Terry Austin, R-Buchanan, Sens. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, and Bill Carrico, R-Bristol, as well as Gov. Ralph Northam and the various stakeholders that have provided input for this bill. This bill lays a solid foundation by creating dedicated funding to begin the long overdue work to address I-81 improvements.”

“The other three major interstates in Virginia – I-95, I-66 and I-64 – have an average of $3.1 billion in dedicated funding. I-81 has none,” Obenshain said. “It has sadly become clear that without dedicated funding, the improvements we need just aren’t going to happen. Continuing to not address I-81 is not an option and I believe that my bill is a balanced, longterm and effective approach without placing burdens on commuters and residents along the I-81 corridor.”

The user-fee structure would include three tiers. The first would offer free, limited use for local drivers traveling 100 or more round trip miles a day. A second would provide for low priced unlimited miles annual passes for cars and trucks (other than tractor trailers). A third would provide for tolls primarily on heavy commercial trucks.

Along the 300 plus miles of I-81, there would be six toll gantries, under the proposal, about one every 50 miles. The bill provides a free pass through one gantry each way every day of the year. This means potentially up to 200 miles of travel per day without charge.

For anyone who travels the interstate with any regularity at all who may not qualify for the free pass or may exceed that, they would be able to pay the one time annual fee for unlimited use. A cap of 17 cents per mile and 11 cents per mile would be placed on user fees for trucks and automobiles respectively.

A truck as defined in the bill is any vehicle classified as Class 6 or higher (essentially any vehicle required to stop at weigh stations) by the Federal Highway Administration. The toll that is imposed on heavy trucks and through traffic will be reduced by half for those vehicles traveling between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Some have expressed concerns that the plan will divert heavy trucks and commuter traffic onto Route 11 or other local roads. Under this plan and the generous free use, there would be no incentive for local drivers to divert. In addition, there will be substantial improvements to make traveling the interstate easier. And there would be electronic measures to ensure that there are no incentives for heavy trucks to exit the Interstate and reenter after a toll.

The bill establishes a video-monitoring system and automatic vehicle identification system to monitor and penalize trucks and vehicles who exit and re-enter Interstate 81 to avoid a toll. This would protect commuters on Route 11 and other adjoining roads from dealing with traffic and safety concerns from diversionary drivers.

“I am committed to working with my fellow legislators in the General Assembly and the Governor’s administration as this bill goes through the legislative process to ensure that all options are considered and all concerns are heard,” Obenshain said.

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