Interstate 81 travels through the heart of the Shenandoah Valley for more than 150 miles and is currently one of the most scenic highways in the interstate system. It also bisects the Second and Third Winchester, First and Second Kernstown, Cedar Creek, Fisher’s Hill, Tom’s Brook, and New Market battlefields.
In 2005, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation joined with dozens of Valley governments, businesses, and non-profit partners in endorsing ‘Reasonable Solutions for I-81: A Six-Point Plan for the Future,’ a series of low-cost, low-impact improvements for the interstate. Recommendations included completing spot improvements such as climbing lanes and redesigned exits; shifting pass-through freight traffic from trucks to rail; using the highway’s median for improvements to limit the encroachment of the road on private property; stepping up law enforcement to improve safety; and providing funding for land acquisition to mitigate impacts of I-81 on cultural resources in the corridor, most notably battlefields.
Nonetheless, in 2007 the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration approved an excessive $12 billion plan to widen the interstate to a minimum of six lanes along its entire 320-mile length in Virginia, with eight-to-twelve lane sections in some urban areas. Proposed changes to this interstate threaten hundreds of acres of the Valley’s battlefields in particular, and to the District as a whole.
While full implementation of the plan is not funded – and tolling the interstate would require express approval of the General Assembly – the plan does guide specific improvements as they are made along the roadway and leads to excessive project costs, leaving funds unavailable for additional improvements elsewhere along the roadway.