When Ralph Northam was sworn in as Virginia’s Governor in January 2018, he made several remarks during his inauguration that resonated with people on both sides of the political aisle.
“Virginians don’t elect officials to be Democrats or Republicans – they elect us to solve problems,” he said at the time. “Treating symptoms of problems may be easy in the short run but getting to the root of the problem and solving it from the bottom up is always more effective in the long run.”
On March 28, standing on a hill in Salem overlooking Interstate-81, Northam
announced amendments to Senate Bill 1716, introduced by Senators Bill Carrico and Mark Obenshain, and House Bill 2718, introduced by Delegates Terry Austin and Steve Landes.
“This year I worked closely with Democratic and Republican legislators to reach a long-term agreement that would address the critical safety and reliability issues along the I-81 corridor and make historic investments in the economic competitiveness of this vital region of the Commonwealth,” Northam said. “We can’t wait another year to find a solution – I am pleased to offer amendments that will establish dedicated funding sources to support improvements that will lead to a major reduction in crashes and travel delays.”
Senator Bill Carrico, a Republican, shares that optimism.
“Fixing long-standing issues with I-81 is a top priority to me and my constituents who use this road every day. Finding a funding mechanism to support improvements that will make Interstate 81 safer is our common goal,” he said. “With almost 50 percent of all Virginia goods being transported on the hundreds of miles of I-81, and 11 million trucks per year traveling this interstate, we need to work towards crucial improvements as soon as possible to make travel safer for the public.”
In December 2018, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) approved $2 billion for the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan. Dedicated funding is expected to go to other Virginia interstates, such as I-95 and I-64, in addition to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA). The plan is for $151 million to be invested in I-81.
Shannon Valentine, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, also made some remarks about I-81. “Interstate 81 is a critical element of Virginia’s transportation network. The urgency surrounding I-81 has created the opportunity to establish dedicated funding for capital and operational investments promoting safety, economic growth and investment for all Virginians,” she said.
An increase in tractor-trailer registration fees to begin later this year in addition to increasing the diesel tax to 2.03 percent of the statewide average wholesale price per gallon was also proposed during Northam’s speech.
Roanoke County resident Lisa Smith considers herself a “glass half full type of person.” When a politician says they intend on doing something, she wants to believe they are not intentionally lying.
“There is no question that Interstate-81 has major problems. I’m just hoping that elected officials can put partisanship aside and do what’s in the best interest of the people,” she said.
While Republicans command a slim majority in the Senate and House of Delegates, a majority is required to pass an amendment. The General Assembly convened on April 3 to take up the addressed amendments in addition to the proposed changes to legislation and vetoes.
The Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan can be found at www.va81corridor.org.