Earmarks rule bans money for Interstate 81

Bob Goodlatte

A congressional prohibition on funding earmarks likely means no federal money will be available for specific improvements to Interstate 81 as some state legislators want.

A group of state senators and delegates representing districts along the Interstate 81 corridor sent a letter dated Jan. 25 to U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke,  asking that he and other Congress  members consider aiding Virginia in its pursuit to improve safety along the federal highway.

Goodlatte responded to the letter Tuesday, after President Donald Trump released his infrastructure proposal, pointing out that he has used the interstate to commute each week from his home in Roanoke to Washington, D.C., since his election to Congress.

“As a fellow I-81 driver, I share your concerns for the long-term planning, improvement, and safety of the interstate and appreciate you taking the time to send me your thoughts,” Goodlatte states in the letter. “We agree that significant efforts must be made in order to fully address improvements to the 325 miles of I-81 in Virginia.”

The Virginia Department of Transportation estimates that $1.06 billion of its fiscal 2018 budget, or roughly 19.5 percent, would come from federal funds, Goodlatte notes. The congressman goes on to state that VDOT serves as the best entity to evaluate, create and execute strategies to address roads and other needs across Virginia.

“Additionally, I recognize the challenges of fairly addressing infrastructure needs in urban, suburban, and rural areas of Virginia while operating under funding constraints that limit the ability of the commonwealth to create long-term budgets to support a holistic revitalization strategy for I-81,” Goodlatte states.

Hurdles such as environmental concerns, eminent domain and re-routing highways through protected areas, coupled with fiscal constraints and the nature of funding mechanisms like tolls has created a “mammoth project,” Goodlatte adds. VDOT must address these matters in order to move forward with a plan of action, the congressman notes.

The Republican Conference in the House of Representatives banned the use of budget earmarks in 2011, precluding Virginia’s congressional delegation from pursuing targeted spending for projects such as improvements to Interstate 81, Goodlatte points out.

The congressman stated in the letter that he continues to support Virginia’s applications for federal grants. Goodlatte jointly wrote a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao that voiced support for Virginia’s $52.9 million request from the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant program for the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Program. Goodlatte said he expects the department to award grants in the second quarter of fiscal 2018.

The White House infrastructure plan outlines a $200 billion appropriations request from Congress expected to spur an estimated $1.5 trillion in investment, Goodlatte notes, adding that the proposal seeks reforms in the permitting process and to relegate major decision-making authority to each state.

“I stand ready to assist the commonwealth in navigating the regulatory approval and grants process and will continue to monitor additional opportunities to support the I-81 corridor whenever possible,” Goodlatte states in the letter.