In April, Gov. Ralph Northam signed SB971 into law. The law directs the Commonwealth Transportation Board to study financing options for Interstate 81 improvements.
However, the evaluation “shall not consider options that toll all users of Interstate 81, and shall not consider tolls on commuters using Interstate 81, but may consider high-occupancy toll lanes” and heavy commercial vehicles.
On the bright side, the bill does include a provision that directs the Transportation Board to address the truck parking problem along the I-81 corridor.
Specific to the trucking industry, the study will evaluate the following:
- Truck travel patterns along the I-81 corridor and analyze policies that minimize the impact on local truck traffic;
- Identify actions and policies that will be implemented to minimize the diversion of truck traffic from the Interstate 81 corridor, including the prohibition of through trucks on parallel routes;
- Determine potential solutions to address truck parking needs along the I-81 corridor; and
- Assess the potential economic impacts on Virginia agriculture, manufacturing, and logistics sector companies utilizing the I-81 corridor from tolling only heavy commercial trucks.
Although truck-only tolls is one component of the study, VDOT may also consider high-occupancy tolls lanes as another viable financing option.
According to VDOT spokeswoman Marshall Herman, nearly 12 million trucks travel on the 325-mile stretch of I-81 in Virginia, carrying approximately $312 billion in goods each year. More than 40 percent of the interstate truck traffic in Virginia occurs on I-81.
VDOT’s most recent traffic data reveals that traffic for combination trucks with one trailer along I-81 alone ranges from a quarter to a third of all traffic on specific sections.
Of the nearly 300 I-81 sections where that data was available, approximately three-quarters of those segments had 20 percent or less tractor-trailer traffic.
Each year, about 2,000 crashes occur on the 325-mile stretch of highway. Of those crashes, 30 have clearance times greater than six hours.
Herman said a finalized schedule for the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan has yet to be determined. However, SB971 requires public meeting to be completed by Nov. 30. An executive summary and report is due no later than Jan. 1, 2019.