The Roanoke Regional Chamber provided the following comments on the I-81 Corridor Improvement Plan at the October 25 public meeting hosted by the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment.

On behalf of the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce and the organizations we serve, thank you for the opportunity to comment on the ongoing I-81 Corridor Improvement Plan. Improving I-81 has been a longstanding policy goal for our members, and we appreciate the efforts of the administration, elected leaders, and transportation advocates to make this initiative a top priority.

Interstate 81 is the artery of western Virginia that connects our communities to economic opportunities around Virginia, the United States, and the world. Significant improvements to the corridor are immediately necessary to foster future growth.

Data shows that I-81 has the highest proportion of incident related delay compared to all other Virginia interstates, presenting unique safety and reliability challenges. We appreciate the work that has been conducted to identify incident hotspots and potential solutions along the corridor. With multiple contributing factors in these problem areas, the most effective solutions will be a combination of capital and operational improvements.

Twenty-two out of thirty-three identified projects in the Salem district have been recommended for funding at this point. While we understand that projects must be prioritized based on funding capacity, I would like to re-iterate the Chamber’s support for projects proposed in the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization’s recent “TED” study, which identifies and prioritizes investment in projects that will advance regional economic goals.

The Chamber recognizes that existing revenue is not sufficient to support needed improvements on I-81. Areas in Virginia with the highest level of interstate investment rely primarily on regional funding. The Roanoke Regional Chamber supports a regionally dedicated fund for infrastructure improvements in the I-81 corridor.

As Senate Bill 971 progressed through the 2018 General Assembly, we supported amended language to assess the economic impact of truck-tolls on manufacturing, agriculture, and logistics sector companies. The final analysis will be an important consideration as tolling concepts are developed.

The latest inclusion of auto tolls and I-81 commuter passes does seem to make the financing structure more equitable among all users of the corridor. As the placements of toll gantries are mapped out, we urge the Department of Transportation and the Commonwealth Transportation Board to avoid interference between the New River Valley and the Roanoke Valley, including Botetourt County, where regional economic connections continue to develop and grow.

We look forward to analyzing the new concepts presented in the most recent iteration of the I-81 Corridor Improvement Plan to understand how toll rates and gantry locations will impact our local businesses and broader regional economy.

Our goal is to support improvements to I-81 that will make the road safer and more reliable for all users – including businesses moving goods and services, commuters traveling to and from work, students driving to one of the thirty colleges or universities routing the corridor, and visitors exploring Virginia’s Blue Ridge.

Again, thank you for making this initiative a priority and for the opportunity to offer feedback on behalf of the Roanoke regional business community.