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Obenshain Patrons Bill That at Long Last Enables Needed Safety Improvements to I-81

Multiple Funding Sources Will Pay for Critical Upgrades to I-81 Corridor


RICHMOND - Today, Senator Obenshain (R-Rockingham), along with Senator Bill Carrico (R-Grayson) submitted a bill to provide for and deliver improvements in safety and reliability on Interstate 81. 


Last year, Obenshain patroned a bill directing the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) to study ways to improve the safety of motorists traveling along I-81and potential dedicated funding streams. The CTB conducted a study and held public meetings resulting in unprecedented response from constituents supporting the need for safety and reliability improvements on the interstate.


Today, Obenshain submitted a bill that would establish a multifaceted approach to fund safety fixes. One will give free, limited use for local drivers traveling 100 or more round trip miles a day. A second will provide for low priced unlimited miles annual passes for cars and trucks (other than tractor trailers). A third will provide for tolls primarily on heavy commercial trucks. 


Obenshain said, "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. 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 bill establishes an Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Fund that restricts the use of revenues to improvements identified by the CTB in last year's study. The Fund will be supported by user fees collected at automatic collection points. No toll booths with live operators will exist and these automatic collections points will not impede traffic or cause congestion.  


The bill also establishes an oversight committee consisting of General Assembly members, chairs of the planning district committees touching Interstate 81 and members of the CTB.


Along the 300 plus miles of I-81, there will be six toll gantries. This means 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 will be able to pay the one time annual fee for unlimited use. A cap of 17 cents per mile and 11 cents per mile will 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 PM and 6 AM. 


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 will 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 will protect commuters on Route 11 and other adjoining roads from dealing with traffic and safety concerns from diversionary drivers.


Obenshain continued, "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."


Delegate Steve Landes (R-Weyers Cave) will be carrying the same bill in the House of Delegates.


Senator Obenshain represents the twenty-sixth district in the Senate of Virginia.  The district includes the city of Harrisonburg and the counties of Warren, Shenandoah, Page, Rappahannock and Rockingham (part).  He serves as Chairman of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee and Chairman of the Virginia State Crime Commission.





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