We thought we were finished talking about Interstate 81 for a while when legislators adjourned the General Assembly Session, agreeing to approve the I-81 Corridor Improvement Plan but holding off on identifying a funding mechanism for another year. Turns out we were wrong. Last Thursday the Governor announced a surprising overhaul. His amendment turned the legislation into what could be considered a major tax increase, approved in both the Senate and House on Wednesday (read our response to his amendments here).
Regionally there will be a 2.1% increase in gas tax with funds designated to projects in the I-81 Corridor Plan. For perspective, that’s estimated to be about a 7 cent increase per gallon west of the Blue Ridge. Statewide there will be increases in truck registration fees and diesel tax. Revenue generated from these increases will be designated to interstate projects across the state.
We’re disappointed that changes of this magnitude were approved without public input, legislative committee discussion or transparency. While we are glad there will be funds to get started on the projects in the Plan, we’re concerned that the provision in the original bill to ‘turn off the tap’ when the project list is complete is missing. This creates a permanent funding mechanism that could lead to unnecessary pavement– putting our working farmland and historic resources at risk all over again.
We were quick to communicate with Valley legislators this week and glad to report most voted against the Governor’s amendment (with the exception of Delegate Tony Wilt and Delegate Dickie Bell).
Going forward, we will monitor the implementation of the Plan closely and continue to call for public input as projects are ranked and designed.