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Topic: hell no to widening I-81

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hell no to widening I-81

For Immediate Release February 15, 2008
Contact: Megan Gallagher, Shenandoah Valley Network, 540-253-5162 (until 12 noon)

Virgil McDill, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 202-588-6218
John Eckman, Valley Conservation Council, 540-810-2258
Stewart Schwartz, Coalition for Smarter Growth, 703-599-6437
(additional contacts for interviews listed at end)
Depth of Opposition Grows to Massive I-81 Widening
National, State and Regional Citizens Groups Join Suit
General Assembly Mandates Legislative Oversight
Seven citizens’ organizations – National Trust for Historic Preservation, Scenic Virginia, APVA
Preservation Virginia, Virginia Organizing Project, Valley Conservation Council, Rockbridge Area
Conservation Council and Sierra Club – Thursday joined a federal lawsuit to block plans to widen I-81 to
eight or more lanes throughout most of western Virginia. (Amended Complaint) Meanwhile, the Virginia
Senate and House of Delegates passed bills mandating legislative oversight of I-81 and prior approval
should tolls be proposed.
The new parties to the lawsuit join Larry Allamong, a Shenandoah County farmer, the
Shenandoah Valley Network and the Coalition for Smarter Growth in a legal action lodged on December
17, 2007 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Charlottesville. The 10 plaintiffs are
asking the court to prevent the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) from allowing the Virginia
Department of Transportation (VDOT) to move forward with the I-81 expansion project until the agencies
have corrected the plan’s fundamental flaws.
“Expanding I-81 would bury some of the nation’s most important historic and cultural
resources—including some 1,238 acres of Civil War battlefields—under a sheet of asphalt, and would
also lead to dramatically increased heavy truck traffic through the pristine landscape of the Shenandoah
Valley,” said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “The National Trust
for Historic Preservation encourages the Virginia Department of Transportation to reopen its planning
process and take a closer look at less costly, less destructive alternatives to massive widening,” he said.
The plaintiffs object to the plan’s emphasis on widening the highway to the exclusion of less
costly and more efficient alternatives that have been endorsed by local governments and citizens groups
throughout the corridor. VDOT’s plan would widen I-81 to eight to 12 lanes through most of the state, a
project that would cost Shenandoah Valley residents, businesses and American taxpayers an estimated
$11.4 billion. VDOT plans to use tolls to pay for the project.
"We believe that the tiered planning process for improving I-81 has been deeply flawed," stated
Elizabeth Kostelny, Executive Director of APVA Preservation Virginia. "By refusing to examine all of
the impacts now, as required by federal law, the plan limits improvement options and forecloses on
alternatives that would be less destructive to the region’s unique historic and cultural resources," she
said. In 2006, APVA Preservation Virginia named the I-81 corridor one of Virginia's Most Endangered
Irreversible Damage to Resources
The lawsuit asserts that the plan’s concept for I-81 “will result in significant, irreversible, adverse
effects on natural, scenic, cultural, historic and ecological resources, communities and property owners.”
It notes that VDOT’s plan for I-81 would destroy 7,400 acres of developed land; 1,062 acres of prime
farmland; between 1,600 and 2,400 residences; 662 businesses; 1,238 acres of Civil War battlefields; 33
acres of wetlands; 361 acres of floodplains; 23 miles of streams; and 13 threatened or endangered species.
“The I-81 corridor contains acres and acres of our Commonwealth’s most beautiful vistas and
viewsheds,” said Scenic Virginia Executive Director Leighton Powell. “We oppose the sacrifice of these
valuable scenic resources for a road plan based on incomplete information that fails to consider rail
options and other thoughtful alternatives. The last thing Virginians need or want is a tolled highway on
the scale of the New Jersey Turnpike roaring through the cities, towns and countryside of the Shenandoah
Valley and southwest Virginia.”
Massive Expansion and Tolling Still Planned
The I-81 expansion plan remains very much alive, despite VDOT’s announcement in January that
it had broken off contract negotiations with Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), the primary contractor behind
the $13 billion “STAR Solutions” proposal to build a tolled truckway on the corridor.
VDOT filed a “Toll Pilot Application” with the FHWA in 2006 that is now pending. If approved,
it would make I-81 the only existing interstate in the country built with tax dollars that was later subject to
tolls for routine maintenance and improvements. The threat of unreasonably high I-81 tolls led state
lawmakers to approve legislation this month to prohibit any tolls on the corridor without express approval
from the General Assembly.
Virginia Organizing Project Chairperson Janice “Jay” Johnson said “opposition to the wasteful
plan for I-81 is diverse and broad-based. Shenandoah Valley legislators, local governments, business and
farm groups, conservation and community groups all reject the $11 billion widening project as much too
large, costly and destructive to the region’s economy and environment.”
At the Valley Conservation Council, “the I-81 plan represents the largest land use issue of our
time in the Shenandoah Valley,” said Executive Director John Eckman. “It impacts everything we care
about, our communities, farms, forests, open space, battlefields and other cultural resources,” he said.
Plan Forecloses on Less Costly, More Efficient Alternatives
A series of low-cost, low-impact alternatives for improving I-81, dubbed “Reasonable Solutions,”
was endorsed in 2006 by localities and civic organizations throughout the region, including Augusta,
Rockingham, Shenandoah, Clarke and Albemarle counties, the city of Roanoke, the towns of Front Royal,
Toms Brook, New Market, Edinburg and Mt. Jackson, and 22 civic groups. Reasonable Solutions
advocates a balanced mix of improvements to I-81, including spot safety improvements for the roadway’s
trouble areas and greater freight diversion from trucks to rail.
In July, Norfolk Southern announced plans for a $2 billion rail upgrade along the Crescent
Corridor from New York to Texas that will divert one million trucks from I-81, including 750,000 trucks
in Virginia, up to 25 percent of the current total in the state. A state study of the potential for diverting up
to 60 percent of I-81 through truck freight to rail, mandated by the General Assembly, is due this spring.
Additional Contacts for Interviews:
Leighton Powell, Scenic Virginia, 804-363-9453
Elizabeth Kostelny, APVA/Preservation Virginia, 804-648-1889, x 306
Joe Szakos, Virginia Organizing Project, 434-984-4655, x222
Roger Diedrich, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, 703-352-2410
Barbara Walsh, Rockbridge Area Conservation Council, 540-463-2330
Plaintiff Organizations:
The Shenandoah Valley Network links citizens groups in seven counties working on land use, land
protection and transportation issues. (www.shenandoahvalleynetwork.org)
The Coalition for Smarter Growth works to ensure that transportation and development decisions
accommodate growth while revitalizing communities, providing more housing and travel choices,
and conserving our natural and historic areas. (www.smartergrowth.net)
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, with headquarters in Washington, DC, nine regional and
field offices, 29 historic sites, including Belle Grove Plantation in Frederick County, and partner
organizations in all 50 states, provides leadership, education, advocacy and resources to a national
network of people, organizations and local communities committed to saving places, connecting us
to our history and collectively shaping the future of America’s stories. (www.nationaltrust.org)
Scenic Virginia is the sole statewide organization working to preserve, protect and enhance the scenic
beauty and community character of the Commonwealth. (www.scenicvirginia.org)
APVA Preservation Virginia is dedicated to preserving and promoting the state's irreplaceable historic
structures, landscapes, collections, communities and archaeological sites, ensuring the vitality of
Virginia's distinctive heritage, resulting in cultural, economic and educational benefits for the
public by providing leadership, expertise, influence, policy, programs and services to the public and
special audiences. (www.apva.org)
The Virginia Organizing Project, a statewide social justice organization, has three offices and more
than 1,500 members on the I-81 corridor. VOP works to empower local people to challenge
injustice and improve the quality of their lives. (www.virginia-organizing.org)
The Valley Conservation Council, based in Staunton, serves 11 counties along the I-81 corridor and
works to promotes land use that sustains the farms, forests, open spaces, and cultural heritage of the
Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia. (www.valleyconservation.org)
The Sierra Club is the oldest conservation organization in the U.S. The Virginia Chapter has
approximately 17,000 members throughout Virginia working to build healthy, livable communities,
and to conserve and restore our natural environment. (virginia.sierraclub.org)
Rockbridge Area Conservation Council promotes wise stewardship of natural and cultural resources
through education, advocacy, and action in order to protect and enhance the quality of life for
present and future inhabitants of Rockbridge County. (http://organizations.rockbridge.net/racc/)
Also on the web:
Complete text of the amended complaint:
Reasonable Solutions: A Six Point Plan for the Future of I-81:
Virginia Department of Transportation I-81 website: www.i-81.org

I81 Shenandoah Valley Forum - Shenandoah Valley

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