VDOT news release
The Virginia Department of Transportation has expanded its current environmental study for Interstate 81 to include the seven-mile section between exit 143 in Roanoke County and exit 150 in Botetourt County.
In fall 2012, VDOT, in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), began work to prepare a Tier 2 Environmental Assessment for proposed highway improvements on I-81 between exit 118 (Route 460) in Christiansburg and exit 143 (Interstate 581) in Roanoke County. This section of I-81 between exit 118 and exit 143 was identified as a section of independent utility in the previously completed Tier 1 Final Environmental Statement (EIS) and Record of Decision (ROD) in 2007.
Based on a recent traffic analysis associated with the Tier 2 document, VDOT has determined that the traffic and volumes and commuting patterns along the seven-mile portion of I-81 between exit 143 and exit 150 represent a more logical breakpoint and are consistent with the original study section between exit 143 and exit 118. Therefore, VDOT has altered the section of independent utility and study area to include the additional seven miles north to exit 150.
"It makes sense to group the section of I-81 between I-581 and exit 150 into this study because of what we are seeing with both existing and projected traffic patterns from exit 141 north to exit 150. The tiered approach does allow for such adjustments to be made as we move forward with the more detailed analysis," explains Angel Deem, VDOT's location studies project manager.
Since the study's launch last fall, work has been underway to assess the potential impacts to environmental and cultural resources along the section of I-81 between Christiansburg and Roanoke. VDOT held public meetings in February 2013 to receive input on the study area. Compilation of traffic data is now underway along with the development of traffic forecasts These assessments, field reviews and traffic data analysis will continue this summer and now will include an additional seven miles of I-81.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires consideration and documentation of potential environmental consequences of proposed transportation improvements and making the information available for public comment before specific location and design decisions are made. VDOT anticipates making a draft of the Environmental Assessment available for public review and comment in fall 2013.
In November 2003, VDOT and FHWA announced that the agencies had agreed to streamline the NEPA study process by dividing it into two phases, or tiers. The Tier 1 study identified needs, developed solutions and evaluated potential impacts associated with conceptual-level improvements along the entire 325-mile I-81 corridor in Virginia. The Tier 1 study also divided I-81 into eight segments for further detailed analysis, which could be performed in Tier 2 studies. After completion of a Tier 2 study, FHWA may authorize use of federal funds for VDOT to begin designing construction plans for future improvements.
Although much discussion has centered on the possible expansion of I-81 in Virginia, no plans or proposals can be implemented without the approval and concurrence of FHWA. Because the interstate system is federally funded, any proposed changes to the highway must comply with all federal laws, including NEPA.