hr 032819 Interstate81 p01

Interstate 81 spans 325 miles through Western Virginia.

Seven lawmakers have been appointed to the newly formed Interstate 81 Committee tasked with improving the highway.

Four members of the House of Delegates and three state senators will serve on the committee created earlier this year as part of a legislative plan that includes raising funds to fix the crash-plagued highway.

The senators serving on the committee are: Bill Carrico, R-Grayson; John Edwards, D-Roanoke; and Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham. The delegates on the committee are: Terry Austin, R-Botetourt; Chris Collins, R-Frederick; Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg; and Tony Wilt, R-Rockingham.

The committee has 15 voting members. The three members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board representing highway construction districts that include I-81 will serve on the committee as well as the five chairs of the planning district commissions.

The legislature approved a funding package that includes an increase in the statewide diesel tax along with an increase in the regular gas and diesel taxes in the localities that line I-81. The tax increase will take effect next month.

The plan also calls for increasing tractor-trailer registration fees. The entire package is expected to generate about $280 million annually, of which, about $150 million will go toward I-81. The rest will be dispersed to regions elsewhere in Virginia for transportation needs.

The funding for I-81 will go toward $2 billion in projects identified by the Virginia Department of Transportation and approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board. The board can revisit the list in the future to add more projects as the initial projects get underway or if a new, critically needed project emerges.

The I-81 Committee will review the list of projects to prioritize highway upgrades, such as widening sections of the highway, lengthening access ramps and installing message signs. The committee will give its recommendations to the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which has the final say.

The committee will hold four public meetings later this year to gather public input. No dates have been announced.

“These meetings will give people an opportunity to express their priorities,” Austin said Wednesday. “This is going to be an ongoing process, so having the input is going to be great.”

The General Assembly will receive a report with updates on I-81 projects and funding each year. The first report is due Dec. 15.

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Amy Friedenberger is the politics reporter for The Roanoke Times. She's been a reporter here since 2014. Previously, she worked for newspapers in Pennsylvania. Follow her on Twitter at @ajfriedenberger.

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