Governor Northam and Legislators Announce Bipartisan Proposal for I-81 Corridor Improvement Plan

On January 9, 2019, Governor Ralph Northam announced a bipartisan legislative proposal that will fund $2.2 billion in capital improvements projects along the Interstate 81 (I-81) Corridor. The legislation is a result of a year-long safety and operational improvements study completed at the direction of the Virginia General Assembly and approved by the by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) in December 2018.

The initial draft legislation establishes an I-81 Corridor Improvement Fund supported by tolls along I-81. The proposal establishes limits on toll rates and allows automobiles and small trucks the ability to purchase an annual pass allowing unlimited use of I-81 for a fixed yearly fee. Revenues collected would only be used for improvements included in the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan. The tolls could generate $145 million in the first year and $166 million annually by the fifth year.

Many lawmakers in the I-81 corridor are supporting a toll system over establishing a regional gas tax to pay for the I-81 improvements. According to a January 9 press release from the Governor’s Office, Senators Mark Obenshain and Bill Carrico in the Senate and Delegates Steve Landes and Terry Austin in the House have indicated support for the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan legislation.

The legislation is based on the I-81 Corridor Improvement Plan, which was created by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment (OIPI), and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT). The study identified $2.2 billion in capital improvement projects recommended for implementation over the next 7-10 years, with $1 billion distributed among the three VDOT construction districts based on the amount of I-81 centerline miles they contain, and the remaining $1 billion of projects sorted by benefit-cost scores.

According to the Plan, the project distribution by VDOT construction district allocates 13 projects estimated at $875 million to the Salem district, 27 projects estimated at $285 million to the Bristol district, and 23 projects estimated at $838 million to the Staunton district. Capital projects were evaluated and prioritized based on the following measures:

  • Safety -- reduction in the number of fatal and injury crashes (40%)
  • Congestion mitigation -- decrease in person-hours of delay (40%)
  • Accessibility -- access to jobs (15%)
  • Access to jobs -- for disadvantaged populations (5%)

Report findings estimate that the $2.2 billion would generate the following benefits along the I-81 Corridor between 2020 and 2060:

  • Decrease 6 million vehicle hours of delay per year
  • Reduce up to 450 crashes per year
  • Increase total output of all Virginia industries by $1.7 billion
  • Create 19k job years
  • A net reduction of trucking costs, including a $0.17/mile toll scenario

The study also recommends that the CTB allocate $43 million from the Toll Facilities Revolving Account (TFRA) for implementation of the tolling system, including roadside equipment. TFRA requires a repayment and the Plan’s toll financing option assumes this repayment.

The legislative proposal must still be approved by the General Assembly and financing determined. For more information please visit the CTB’s I-81 project website:

The Office of the Governor’s full January 9, 2019 press release: