HPV Vaccine

Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Groups say it’s time to fix I-81

Melinda Williams/SWT
M.J. O’Brien Jr., left, and Rob Lanham discuss the need for upgrades on Interstate 81. The men provided those in attendance with a card, top, containing information to help them encourage state elected officials to support funding for the interstate.

By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

Over 20 million vehicles use I-81 annually, with almost 12 million being commercial trucks, according to Virginians for Better Transportation (VBT). Few, if any, would disagree the highway is congested and, often, challenging.

VBT, a group pushing for I-81 improvements, says safety issues have been a known concern on the interstate for over a decade, but “Virginia leaders have neglected I-81 for too long.”

Thursday, M.J. O’Brien Jr., president and CEO of Salem Stone Corporation, told a group of business, civic and government leaders” it’s going to take them to fix the interstate. He urged them to send a message to elected leaders that “it’s Western Virginia’s turn” for a more efficient and safe interstate.

Salem Stone hosted Thursday’s “Time to Upgrade I-81” luncheon and meeting at Holston River Quarry Inc. in Dublin. O’Brien and Rob Lanham spoke, respectively, on behalf of VBT and Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance (VTCA). Lanham is sales manager for Cedar Mountain Stone in Northern Virginia.

Lanham said VTCA estimates the cost to make the “bare minimum” of upgrades to the 325 miles of I-81 that passes through Virginia is $3.3 billion. However, the group contends, those upgrades would result in $5.2 billion in economic activity in Virginia, create more than 19,000 jobs with a $960 million annual payroll, and generate $100 million in local and state taxes annually.

According to O’Brien, 75 percent of respondents to a survey conducted on the social media site Facebook indicated they don’t feel safe when traveling on I-81. He speculated the other 25 percent hadn’t used the interstate lately.

In one case, he says, a woman who lives in Northern Virginia and has a second home at Smith Mountain Lake decided to sell her Northern Virginia home and move to the lake permanently simply because she doesn’t like traveling on I-81.

O’Brien says 53 percent of the survey respondents also indicated they are willing to pay more through a gasoline tax if the funds will be earmarked to improve I-81.

He challenged the assumption that supporting a gas tax sinks political candidates’ campaigns. O’Brien says more than 95 percent of Democrat and Republican candidates supporting a gas tax to fund I-81 improvements won their primary elections.

VBT and VTCA presented each person in attendance Thursday with a handout citing 82 reasons “It’s time to fix I-81.”

Among the listed reasons were:

  • The interstate is outdated and traffic exceeds the capacity for which it was built by 50 percent.
  • It’s one of the top eight trucking routes in the nation. Forty-two percent of all truck traffic in Virginia uses I-81.
  • At least half of all Virginia college students and their families use I-81.
  • Highway capacity is cut by 65 percent if traffic is stopped on just one of the interstate’s lanes.
  • Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is contributing what funds it has available for I-81, but it’s not enough.
  • By 2040, nearly 20 million trucks are expected to be carrying three-quarters of a trillion dollars worth of goods on I-81 annually.
  • College graduations and other major events along the interstate corridor lead to the entire interstate getting backed up for hours.
  • There are 2,000 crashes on the interstate annually, with 26 percent involving trucks. That’s the highest percentage of truck wrecks on any interstate in Virginia.
  • Fifty-one percent of all traffic delays on the interstate are caused by traffic incidents; compared to 16 percent statewide.

The groups point out VDOT completed 10 studies in 1998 that showed I-81 needs at least three lanes in each direction to handle the traffic it is carrying. Nonetheless, they contend, the corridor needs 10 times the amount of transportation funding made available to it.

While O’Brien and Lanham said their purpose Thursday was not to offer funding suggestions, they indicated it’s time a dedicated source be established if issues facing the interstate are to be addressed.

They said the state legislature established dedicated transportation funding sources for Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia in 2013.

“As a result, those areas have reduced congestion and improved connectivity. It’s Western Virginia’s turn now,” states the list of reasons to improve I-81.

The men urge area residents, businesses, organizations and local government officials to visit www.itstime81.com and send a message to elected state leaders that action to fund I-81 upgrades is expected from them this coming legislative session.

 

Comments

comments

You must be logged in to post a comment Login