WINCHESTER — Commonwealth Transportation Board member Mark Merrill says he’s optimistic the Biden administration’s proposed infrastructure bill could help finance road improvements in Virginia — including to Interstate 81.
Merrill, of Winchester, made his comments at Tuesday night’s Frederick County Transportation Forum at Winchester Regional Airport. The meeting was an opportunity for people to talk with local and state leaders about county road issues.
Merrill said he hopes money could be used from the infrastructure bill to add lanes to segments of I-81 that have a history of being congested and dangerous for drivers.
In July of 2019, a 2.1% increase in Virginia’s gasoline tax took effect along the I-81 corridor, including in Winchester and Frederick County, to help fund $2 billion in improvements to I-81. Locally, the project calls for widening I-81 northbound and southbound to three lanes between exits 313 and 317, extending the acceleration lane onto the interstate at the truck weigh station on I-81 North at mile marker 304, and adding more message boards and cameras along Frederick County’s portion of the interstate.
Merrill said while the limited improvements from the gas tax are “not what everybody would like, it’s moving in the right direction,” and that additional money from the federal government could lead to more substantial improvements.
Tenth District Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, and 29th District Del. Bill Wiley, R-Winchester, said they are looking for funding solutions for road improvements in the Winchester, Frederick County and Clarke County areas. Both delegates said they want to ensure that local road projects receive their fair share of state funding.
Wiley said if the infrastructure bill gets passed, he will advocate for using funds to improve I-81.
“We are just way behind, and it’s gotten dangerous,” Wiley said of the interstate.
Stephens City officials talked about their desire to alleviate traffic congestion in the town by relocating I-81 exit 307 farther south. However, Frederick Couty Assistant Planning Director John Bishop said that while that project is important, it’s been challenging to get off the ground due to its prohibitive $241 million cost.
Bishop said several residents at the forum asked him for updates on the proposed extension of Va. 37 eastward so that it loops around Frederick County. The $770 million project has been planned for decades, but it has never gotten funding.
Also of concern to several residents is the lack of bicycling options throughout Frederick County. Many complained that there is no safe way for bicyclists to travel to Winchester on their bikes.
Winchester resident Eric Fitzpatrick said he is “appalled by how anti-bicycle this community is” and said that bicycle trails and lanes are needed for transportation and recreation.
County planners said Tuesday night they plan to explore the bicycling problem further. Bishop said while more recent road projects and planned road projects take biking into consideration, the biggest challenge is retrofitting bike routes onto existing narrow roads.