Valley group applauds I-81 initiative

i81-headerShenandoah Valley Network announced on Tuesday its strong support for a new legislative caucus created in Richmond. Nine members of the General Assembly representing the Shenandoah Valley have joined forces in a Northern I-81 Caucus to address problems with the state’s plan for widening Interstate 81 through the Valley.

Dels. Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock) and Ben Cline (R-Lexington) are the co-chairs of the new Caucus. Members of the caucus include Sens. Jill Holtzman Vogel, Mark Obenshain and Emmett Hanger. The delegates are Michael Webert, Tony Wilt, Steve Landes, and Dickie Bell.

In a letter inviting their colleagues to join the caucus, Del Gilbert and Del Cline write that “(t)he Commonwealth and our communities can no longer afford the state’s $11.4 billion plan for I-81” which relies solely on toll-funded widening to reduce congestion and fix safety problems. The leaders also “oppose the intrusion on private property rights and negative impacts to Shenandoah Valley farmland, historic sites, and Main Street communities projected in the current plan.”  According to the letter, the first meeting of the Caucus will be an in-person briefing in Richmond.

Denman Zirkle, executive director of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, says “VDOT’s current plan for I-81 calls for eight to twelve lanes through the majority of the Shenandoah Valley, posing the threat of unnecessary destruction of Civil War Battlefields and other historic resources throughout the corridor.  I applaud Todd Gilbert’s and Ben Cline’s leadership in seeking a more affordable and less destructive plan for increasing the interstate’s capacity.”

Kate Wofford, director of the Shenandoah Valley Network, says “Together these legislators have a great deal of influence. There are viable, affordable alternatives to the massive widening proposed by VDOT– rail freight diversion, improved local road networks, enhanced safety enforcement and smaller safety improvements at highway ‘hotspots.’  I’m optimistic that this initiative will finally move the state toward a right-sized solution for I-81.”

These same legislators, or predecessors from their districts, worked together in 2008 to ensure that tolls were not imposed on I-81 without approval from the General Assembly. The 2007 Plan for I-81, approved by VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, calls for tolls on cars and trucks as the major funding mechanism.

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