Virginia lawmakers approve funding to upgrade Interstate 81

Virginia lawmakers approve funding to upgrade Interstate 81

RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ7) - Anyone who’s driven Interstate 81 knows when accidents happen, the highway can backup for miles.

To address that issue and improve safety, lawmakers want to make a series of improvements along Interstate 81's entire 325 mile corridor in Virginia. Until a few weeks ago there was some uncertainty as to how the upgrades might be funded.

On Wednesday the Virginia house and senate voted to back a proposal made by Governor Ralph Northam. It will increase diesel and road taxes, as well as truck registration fees.

Botetourt County Delegate Terry Austin, who represents a district along I-81, was among 12 Republicans in the house who voted to back the measure.

"There's traffic diversions through small towns," Austin said, referring to the detours created when crashes happen on the Interstate. "It's compromised older people traveling on rural, secondary highways. This is a very important measure today."

Republicans opposed to the changes, like Delegate Dave LaRock from Northern Virginia, raised concerns about the lack of public input before voting to increase taxes.

"Significant tax increase without input from the legislature, for the large part. Without input from the general pubic," said LaRock, a Republican from Loudoun County. "This just defies any reasonable expectations that the public should have for transparency."

Also Wednesday the state senate approved a change that would make it illegal to hold a cellphone in Virginia while driving. That measure is expected to face opposition in the house, which will likely prevent the change from taking effect this year.

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