From the office of Senator Mark Warner: 

Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) met with the I-81 Corridor Coalition, a group of leaders from local Chambers of Commerce looking to facilitate interstate commerce, improve safety, and reduce congestion in the western portion of Virginia. In their meeting, the local Chamber leaders updated the Senators on their efforts to find solutions to the safety and congestions challenges plaguing the corridor. Interstate-81 is a heavily trafficked freight corridor that serves as a key route for transportation and commerce for the eastern United States. In recent years, the interstate has faced multiple bottlenecks and heavy congestion that result in decreased efficiency and higher transportation travel times and costs for the region. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has reported at least a 12 percent increase in traffic and a 55 percent increase of delays from crashes, construction, or bad weather in just the past five years.

Most federal funding for infrastructure projects is distributed to states by a fixed formula, with decisions made primarily by the Commonwealth Transportation Board and VDOT. Additional federal dollars can be obtained by states through competitive grants, such as those awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program. Last year, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe submitted an INFRA program application for nearly $53 million for improvements to I-81 in the Shenandoah Valley, which Sens. Warner and Kaine supported. Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine recently outlined plans to begin a study on putting such tolls on the highway. While Congress can no longer earmark funds for projects like this, Warner and Kaine discussed how the local business leaders can join them in pushing the Trump Administration to introduce a real infrastructure plan with direct federal funding. Through additional direct federal dollars, there would be more funding available to states to use toward projects like I-81.

“We support the coalition’s goal to improve travel conditions on I-81, which is in desperate need of repairs after years of congestion and safety concerns,” said the Senators. “We’re hopeful that the Trump Administration will see the need for improving roads and bridges across the country and support an infrastructure plan with real federal investment to help communities like those along I-81 who cannot necessarily afford to create toll roads and raise taxes. As former Governors, we will continue lending our expertise to state legislators and local leaders so they can find a viable, long-term solution to the funding challenges facing this crucial transportation route for the region.”

The I-81 Corridor Coalition was created to improve the safety and efficiency of freight and passenger movement through the sharing of information and coordinated decision making, management, and operations. They represent the I-81 corridor and have membership from Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York. The group meeting with both Senators today included Richard Kennedy, CEO of the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber (Clarke County, Frederick County and Winchester); Annette Medlin, President and CEO of the Greater Augusta Chamber; Rebekah Gunn, Vice President of Public Policy & Strategic Issues for the Roanoke Regional Chamber; and Cally Smith, Vice President of Membership and Brand Strategy for the Roanoke Regional Chamber.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been longtime advocates of innovative financing mechanisms for the Commonwealth’s infrastructure. Sen. Warner is the lead sponsor of bipartisan legislation to create a national infrastructure financing authority and as Governor, he began a process for improving I-81 by securing U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) approval for a slot in a pilot program that would allow tolling on a limited basis. As Governor, Sen. Kaine supported transportation projects to address traffic congestion and expand transportation options in the Commonwealth.