- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2003

STRASBURG, Va. (AP) — A U.S. House transportation bill includes $1.5 billion in federal funding for dedicated truck lanes — a key component in a plan for Interstate 81 in Virginia.

Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, submitted the legislation with I-81 in mind. A strong proponent of trucks-only lanes, Mr. Young has expressed interest in making the highway a national pilot project.

“Separate lanes for trucks will move freight more efficiently and make our highways significantly safer,” Mr. Young said. “I’ve been watching Virginia’s progress on I-81, and it’s the best opportunity in the nation for us to separate car and truck traffic.”

The interstate, which runs from Tennessee through Virginia to Canada, is one of the busiest truck routes nationwide.

STAR (Systems Technology and Resources) Solutions, one of two private firms competing for the right to partner with the Virginia Department of Transportation to improve I-81, had proposed widening the highway to at least eight lanes. Trucks would be confined to the two inside lanes in each direction.

The work could be completed by 2018 at a cost of around $8 billion, adjusted for inflation, according to the proposal.

The project would be financed with a combination of federal and state funds along with truck tolls ranging between 12 cents and 37 cents a mile over the life of the work. STAR spokeswoman Mary Beth Jarvis said the bill includes more than enough federal money to meet STAR’s needs.

STAR’s competitor in the bidding process, Fluor Virginia Inc., considered dedicated truck lanes for I-81. But the company ultimately determined that two mixed-use lanes, coupled with an additional cars-only lane in each direction, is the best approach for improving traffic flow.

“We’re taking 70 percent of the traffic — cars — and giving them 100 percent of the highway,” Fluor spokesman Daniel G. “Bud” Oakey said in an interview.

Fluor officials also cite installing a heavier grade of pavement, acquiring additional rights of way and running concrete barriers as cost-prohibitive factors that discourage trucks-only lanes.

Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican whose district includes the Shenandoah Valley, said he would like to see rail incorporated into a solution for I-81. But he stressed that if Virginia wants federal money to separate cars and trucks, it must act quickly.

“If you’re going to do that, the state has got to commit the money they would otherwise spend on I-81,” or between $3 billion and $4 billion, he said. “The public-private partnership process should not be used as an excuse to shift money to federal projects in other parts of the state.”

Mr. Goodlatte said the bill likely won’t be up for discussion in Congress until early next year. Meanwhile, both teams’ proposals are on hold while officials conduct an environmental review.


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