Warner & Kaine Request Funding for I-81 Upgrades

CONTACT:
Nelly Decker (Warner) 202 228 6884
Katie Stuntz (Kaine) 202 355 3761

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today requested additional funding for vital improvements to Interstate 81 (I-81) that would enhance safety and reduce traffic congestion.

In a pair of letters to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the Senators emphasized I-81’s crucial role in commerce along the East Coast and stressed the need for federal dollars to tackle necessary repairs to the highway. The Senators also encouraged DOT to approve an application from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) for federal grant funding to improve I-81, reduce congestion, and address safety problems along the route.

“While improvements have been made in past years to keep up with the growth, I-81 continues to experience heavy congestion and dangerous conditions, which have degraded the corridor,” the Senators wrote in the letter of support to DOT Secretary Elaine Chao. “The proposal put forth by VDOT will undoubtedly transform and improve the lives of many Virginians who travel the interstate every day. Furthermore, upgrades and repairs will improve the safety of those traveling through the Commonwealth.”

The Senators also encouraged the leaders of the EPW Committee to include robust funding for high-priority interstate improvement projects such as I-81 in the next surface transportation bill.

“As you continue to draft the surface transportation reauthorization bill, we urge you to include as much funding as possible for major, high priority interstate improvements projects such as I-81 in Virginia,” the Senators wrote to the Environment and Public Works Committee. “Robust funding through formula programs, as well as additional competitive grant programs like BUILD and INFRA, will be necessary to achieve funding goals for this, and other major projects that involve improvements to hundreds of miles of major interstate arteries.”

More than one-third of all trucks that drive through Virginia and approximately half of the Commonwealth’s value of goods are transported along I-81. In the last decade, I-81 has experienced significant traffic growth, with travel expected to continue increasing along the interstate. Increased I-81 traffic causes severe travel delays and puts travelers at risk, including the drivers involved in the more than 2,000 crashes that happen annually along the route.

A recent study by VDOT that found an unmet need of about $4 billion in improvements along the interstate – only half of which is expected to be covered by the increased truck registration fees and gas tax increases approved by the Virginia General Assembly earlier this year.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been longtime advocates of robust financing for the Commonwealth’s infrastructure. In May, the Senators introduced legislation to provide critical safety reforms and strengthen oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). Additionally, earlier this year, Sen. Warner introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure, create jobs, and generate economic stimulus.

 

Chamber Hosts Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross

It was our honor to host Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross today for a roundtable discussion of the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) and other issues of importance to the business community.

A special thank you to Congressman Ben Cline and Congressman Morgan Griffith for joining us.

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CHAMBER NEWS

I-81 Needs Federal Funding to Complement State Investment

The following op-ed was published in the Roanoke Times on Friday, June 7.

I-81 Needs Federal Funding to Complement State Investment

By Joyce Waugh, president and CEO, Roanoke Regional Chamber

Thursday, May 23 marked Virginia’s inaugural “Celebrate Transportation Day,” and this year, we have much to celebrate though the job is not yet finished.

A 2018 General Assembly resolution, patroned by Senator John Edwards and Delegate Chris Head, established this annual transportation celebration in Virginia. Recognizing the importance that a quality transportation network plays in our economy, the resolution reads:

WHEREAS, ease of transportation is a significant factor for people deciding where to live and raise a family, where to start a business, or where to travel for leisure; enhancing transportation assets boosts the economy in both the short term and the long term by creating jobs, increasing economic competitiveness, and improving quality of life.

This was the message we brought to the General Assembly in 2019 as we strongly and persistently advocated for I-81 improvements.Today, we celebrate transportation as Governor Northam visits Salem for a bill signing ceremony for the I-81 legislation.

After months of studying the unique challenges along I-81, developing targeted solutions to make the corridor safer and more reliable, and considering a variety of financing options, legislation was passed in April to fund the I-81 Corridor Improvement Plan.

The bipartisan package approved by the General Assembly includes a mix of statewide and regional funding measures that will generate approximately $150 million annually to support needed improvements to I-81.

This is worth celebrating – not only the legislation, but also the leaders in our community, broader region and in Richmond who made it happen.

To Governor Northam, Secretary Valentine, the legislators who patroned bills to improve I-81 (Delegates Austin and Landes and Senators Edwards, Carrico, Obenshain, and Hanger), and those who supported its passage – we thank you for making this issue a priority.

And thank you to Virginia’s Blue Ridge and our broader community, for your active engagement throughout the study and legislative process. Every call, meeting, email and letter made a difference, especially when it appeared the General Assembly session was going to end without a solution for I-81.

This year, we celebrate the leadership of our elected leaders, the advocacy of our business community, and the impact this investment will have on our region’s economic vitality.

Next, our goal is to celebrate a federal infrastructure package that complements the investment we’ve made at the state level.

The legislation passed this year will address $2.2 billion in improvements for I-81; however, the Commonwealth Transportation Board identified approximately $4 billion of needed improvements along Virginia’s 325 mile stretch of I-81 between Bristol and Winchester.

Federal funding is necessary to fully fund I-81 improvements.

The Roanoke Regional Chamber stands behind the group of legislators along the I-81 corridor who recently urged Senators Warner and Kaine and Representatives Griffith, Cline, and Wexton to help secure federal funding for I-81.

In a letter dated May 8, the legislators pointed to Virginia’s recent investment in I-81 and called on the federal government to share in the responsibility of funding outdated infrastructure, citing the interstate’s role in the “economic interest of the nation.”

The letter was co-signed by Virginia Delegates Austin, Landes, Wilt, Pillion, LaRock, Collins, Kilgore, Campbell, Rasoul, and Hurst and Senators Chafin, Carrico, Deeds, Hanger, Obenshain, and Edwards. We thank them for continuing to lead in I-81 advocacy.

The idea that potholes aren’t partisan has been around for a while. For years, bipartisan support for infrastructure investment has been steadily increasing, and leaders and voters in state houses and localities have been rolling up their sleeves, making tough, important choices, and rebuilding and modernizing transportation systems.

Our infrastructure doesn’t exist in isolation. Infrastructure – literally – unites the United States of America. No state, city, or county alone can tackle the enormous and growing backlog of projects of regional and national importance.

May 13-20, 2019 was Annual Infrastructure Week – a national week of advocacy and education that brings together business, labor, and elected leaders to spotlight the need to revitalize, modernize, and invest in infrastructure.

Improving I-81 is a priority for the Roanoke Regional Chamber. The corridor carries $312 billion in goods annually and connects 25 colleges and universities, 21 cities, and 13 counties. Investment in our transportation infrastructure is investment in economic opportunity and our region’s future.

In light of the recent Celebrate Transportation Day in Virginia and national Infrastructure Week, we applaud the leadership of the General Assembly in funding I-81 improvements, and we embrace the opportunity to continue transportation advocacy at the federal level.