Kaine adds support for grant to help fund I-81 improvements

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine is throwing his support behind a grant to help fund a $185 million improvement project for Interestate 81.

In a March 5  letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Kaine said he backed a $53 million grant as part of the I-81 project.

“I am supportive of these efforts because I-81 corridor improvements are critical to the Shenandoah Valley’s future,” Kaine wrote.

“Please give full and fair evaluation to this project, which will benefit Virginia’s economic development and the safety of the traveling public.”

There are 11.7 million trucks a year that use I-81, moving $312 billion of freight. The average number of traffic incidents, such as crashes and disabled vehicles that impact travel, is more that 1,200 a year, Kaine stated, citing figures from the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Kaine travels Virginia’s interstates weekly, including I-81, and knows the frustrations drivers experience, said Miryam Lipper, press secretary for Kaine.

A group of senators and delegates in February sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, asking that he and other Congress members consider aiding Virginia in obtaining funding. Goodlatte stated he supports Virginia’s application for the grant.

In February, the state Senate, voted 40-0 to direct the Commonwealth Transportation Board to develop and adopt an Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan and to look at ways to pay for the recommended changes to the highway.

Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, said he has been pushing for years for improvements to I-81.

“We have really tried to ramp up efforts this year in Richmond and D.C.,” Obenshain said.

The letters of support can only help, he said.  “We are grateful for any help.”

While the grant would help, it is up to the federal government to make a much more meaningful contribution to cover the cost of improvements, he said.

“Grants mostly deal with exit and entrance ramps but there are choke points on I-81 that need to be addressed as well,” Obenshain said.

He has proposed a toll on commercial heavy trucks to fund improvements, stressing the toll would not affect commuters.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has identified 41 projects along the I-81 corridor that are needed to ease congestion and improve safety.