Valley: Groups seek ruling against I-81 widening
Story by Chris Graham
A coalition of advocacy groups that filed a federal lawsuit last year to block the proposed $11.4 billion widening of Interstate 81 filed a motion in federal court in Charlottesville last week seeking a positive judgment in the case.
“We have asked the court to require that (the Virginia Department of Transportation) fully evaluate alternatives like spot highway-safety improvements and increased diversion of freight traffic from trucks to rail, which would have much less impact on the communities, farms, history and scenic character of the Shenandoah Valley and the entire I-81 corridor,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Washington, D.C.,-based Coalition for Smarter Growth, which joined in the lawsuit filed in December aimed at preserving options for less costly and less destructive alternatives to a major highway widening on I-81.
The suit contends that a statute-of-limitations notice filed by VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration last year was an attempt by the agencies to prevent landowners and local governments on the I-81 corridor from enforcing a federal law requiring that alternatives to highway widening be considered in violation of the due-process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The plaintiffs’ group, which also includes the Shenandoah Valley Network, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Scenic Virginia, APVA Preservation Virginia, the Virginia Organizing Project, the Valley Conservation Council, the Rockbridge Area Conservation Council, the Sierra Club and landowner Larry Allamong, a Shenandoah County farmer whose property would be consumed by highway widening, are also challenging the failure of VDOT and the FHWA to incorporate into the I-81 project a component for multistate freight rail as mandated and funded by the Virginia General Assembly.
“Unless we succeed in our challenge, the Federal Highway Administration and VDOT will have a free rein to widen I-81 to eight or more lanes along its entire length, despite the objections of dozens of communities and thousands of people during the planning process,” said Megan Gallagher, the director of the Shenandoah Valley Network.