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Meeting focuses on Interstate 81 improvements and possible funding sources like tolls

ROANOKE, Va. – Interstate 81 improvements and how to pay for them were the focus of talks between drivers and state transportation experts at an I-81 corridor discussion in Roanoke. 

"We looked at the whole corridor and tried to identify the right targeted improvement for various sections," said Shannon Valentine, the Virginia Secretary of Transportation. 

Concerns with I-81 center on safety and congestion. The board recommended operations improvements, like changeable message signs and cameras and better detour routes. The board also suggested capital improvements, like adding a third lane on parts of the interstate between Troutville and Christiansburg. During the meeting, some citizens expressed their interest in the board looking more at rail options. 

"We have to be more innovative in our approach to solving these transportation problems. Population is going to increase, truck traffic is going to increase," said David Lofgren. 

Related to funding, the board focused on an increase to the sales and fuel taxes, as well as tolls on cars and tractor-trailers. Officials say a commuter annual pass could make it less expensive for drivers to travel the interstate. The study also looked at time-of-day tolling -- tolls would be more expensive during the busy daylight hours. Tolling struck a chord with one man in the audience: Dale Bennett, the president of the Virginia Trucking Association. 

"Trucking companies cannot afford to absorb that toll, and we in turn will be forced to have to pass it along. So in essence, it's going to have an impact on the goods we use everyday," said Bennett.

Officials stressed that this is still a draft and feedback is welcome. If you missed the meeting, you can still offer comments and concerns about Interstate 81 by email: 

va81corridorplan@oipi.virginia.gov

The comment period ends Nov. 30.