Lawmakers approve funding for I-81 improvements, includes increase in gas tax and truck registration

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Wednesday afternoon, Virginia lawmakers approved funding for I-81 improvements, which include a two percent higher gas tax rate and an increase in truck registration fees.

The plan calls for an increase in gas tax along the I-81 corridor, cities like Bristol, Abingdon, and Marion in Southwest Virginia would be impacted.

The Virginia General Assembly approved Governor Ralph Northam’s Amendments that set up a system to pay for the improvements. Last week, Governor Northam called improving Interstate 81 a priority.

“It will help reduce delays be over 6 million hours and eliminate 450 crashes each year,” Governor Northam said.

The I-81 funding plan does not rely on tolls. That was considered and dismissed earlier in the session.

Meanwhile, those in Southwest Virginia have mixed reactions. Billy Owens has lived in Southwest Virginia his whole life and doesn’t see a need to make improvements to I-81.

“To me we are are already taxed to death as it is,” Owens said. “They got to much gas tax as it is. So no I’m against it.”

Others driving through I-81 gladly welcomed the news.

“The road is well traveled with tractor trailers and its pretty much torn up, so any kind of improvement will be wonderful even if that means a little bit of a gas hike,” said Debbie Clark of Walkerton, Virginia.

Those that are opposed to the funding plan hope that the money is used wisely, asking for improvements like paved roads and lane expansions.

Those that may be impacted most directly are truck drivers. A few expressed that they worried that the increase in fuel and registration costs will negatively impact truck drivers.

“If the registration goes up, it costs a couple thousand dollars a year to register a truck so a lot guys that are out there like me won’t be able to have many trucks on the road,” said Eric Schmid, a truck driver.

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