Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) wants input on the preliminary design plans for widening Interstate 81 through Harrisonburg from mile marker 242 to 248. That’s about a mile south of Exit 243, the Rt 11 Main Street interchange to about a mile north of exit 247, the Rt 33 East Market Street interchange.
VDOT will host an informational meeting and accept comments on the design on Tuesday, September 14, 4 – 6 p.m. at Pleasant Valley Elementary School, 215 Pleasant Valley Road Harrisonburg, VA 22801. (map)
After more than a decade of pushing back against destructive mega-widening plans for I-81, we do not readily support plans to add extensive pavement to the Interstate. This project, however, was identified among others as part of the I-81 Corridor Improvement Study back in 2018. If you remember, the Alliance supported that final plan because the process identified targeted solutions to address specific problems, and it involved extensive community input. You can look back at the justification for the project in this diagram taken from the plan (also pictured above).
Since pavement solutions like road widening should be a last resort for improving safety, it’s important to get it right. Here are a few things we plan to include in our comments to VDOT so that the project will address the safety and congestion issues through Harrisonburg with minimal impact to natural resources and the character of the small city.
– We applaud VDOT for keeping the project largely within the existing right-of-way, and leaving the natural resources, businesses and residences along the corridor as unaffected as possible.
– We support the roundabout at the bridge near Pleasant Valley Elementary School as it is a good alternative to a traffic light. Roundabouts are proven solutions to slow traffic down at all times of day (an important feature near a school!), and efficiently handle peaks of traffic.
– The project ties in with the changes at the Route 33 East Market Street interchange that were vetted back in 2019. If you remember, we successfully advocated that the project include a multi-use trail for pedestrian access and safety across the bridge.
– It’s worth noting that the addition of the third lane on the median side in both directions includes the addition of Jersey barriers for the length of the project. As mentioned above, the use of the median rather than an expanded right-of-way preserves the resources along the corridor. But, Jersey barriers will change the character of Harrisonburg and the Interstate that now feels like a rural interstate passing through a small town (click here to see an image of Jersey barriers on I-95 in Richmond).
– Finally, we continue to encourage VDOT to increase its focus on operational improvements like faster clearing of accidents and effective and equitable speed enforcement, to help alleviate safety issues.
Please chime in and let VDOT know your experience traveling this section of I-81 and your view on the proposal. If you can’t make the meeting, you can review the design here and submit written comments by September 24, 2021 to Mr. Scott Alexander, Project Manager, Virginia Department of Transportation, 811 Commerce Road, Staunton, VA 24401-9029. You may also email your comments to Scott.Alexander@VDOT.Virginia.gov. Please reference “I-81 Harrisonburg Widening Comment” in the subject line.