I-81: The Problem
Interstate 81 traverses dozens of cities, towns, and counties while also intersecting with five other interstates. This route connects the Mid-Atlantic states and is the lifeblood of this area of the country. However, this road requires significant improvements for all of those who travel it.
We can all agree that the problems are safety and increased congestion. Over the years, the number of crashes, their severity, and motorists’ time in traffic have all increased. But why? Simply put, these increases come from multiple areas. The population in counties that border I-81 has grown along with enrollment in area colleges and universities along I-81. Plus, there has been increased movement of freight to service manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and consumers. It is the last point that brings many to feel that the transportation industry should carry the burden to fund the improvements to I-81.
According to the I-81 corridor improvement plan, the enhancements include upgrades to incident management, which provides for, changeable message signs, expanded safety service patrols, detour routes, contract emergency clearance, and truck parking enhancements. Other improvements include widening lanes, adding additional lanes, and extending on and off ramps.
These improvements are all part of House Bill 2718 that is going before the Virginia General Assembly during the 2019 session. Proposed funding for the $2.2 billion of improvements will come from implementing tolls along the 325-mile stretch of I-81 from Bristol to Winchester. Trucks would be charged $0.17 per mile during the day and $0.075 at night. Cars and personal vehicles would be charged $0.075 during the day and $0.05 at night. Personal vehicles are also given the option of a $30 annual pass.
According to the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s report, 24% of all vehicle miles traveled on I-81 were trucks in 2016. Three-fourths of miles traveled belong to non-truck vehicles, such as personal vehicles. The assumptions made in this report are misleading and deceptive.The statistics sound alarming, while in reality, the percentage of truck vehicle miles traveled has remained relatively unchanged during the past ten years. From 2011 to 2017, only 16% of crashes on I-81 involved large trucks. Additionally, truck drivers were cited at fault in just 9.1% of all accidents in 2017. These statistics paint a different picture than what the Commonwealth Transportation Board is presenting.
All trucking companies along I-81 already pay significant taxes and fees to operate their businesses. Vehicle registration fees, diesel taxes, and state taxes are among the additional fees paid by trucking companies to use Virginia’s roads. Many independent owner-operators and small trucking fleets, and even larger trucking fleets will not be able to absorb the cost of tolls with their razor-thin margins. The additional fees will result in trucks diverting to roads along I-81 that are not designed to handle significant increases in truck traffic.
We at Lawrence, along with the trucking industry as a whole, are willing to pay our fair share for funding a solution. We also believe that all those that will benefit from the improvements in the corridor make their contribution. Join us in opposing the proposed solution of House Bill 2718 by contacting your local representative in the General Assembly and signing the petition at www.keeptollsoff81.com.