WINCHESTER — The Virginia Department of Transportation will recommend widening Interstate 81 between Exits 313 and 317 at the upcoming meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, according to a news release from local lawmakers on Friday.

An update on Interstate 81 to be given by Deputy Secretary of Transportation Nick Donahue is on the agenda for the CTB workshop meeting in Richmond on Tuesday. The agenda of Wednesday’s regular meeting includes action on the I-81 Improvement Plan.

Ben Mannell, the VDOT I-81 project manager, said on Friday that the plan will include adding a lane in each direction on I-81 between Exit 313 (Millwood Pike) to Exit 317 (Martinsburg Pike).

This stretch of I-81 through Frederick County had been identified by VDOT as needing improvements but had not been included in a list of changes requiring immediate action.

The Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, VDOT and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation have been studying the entire length of I-81 in Virginia at the direction of the General Assembly.

In October, the I-81 study team identified 105 projects — valued at $4.25 billion — that it considers of “immediate” need. Because of funding concerns, VDOT focused on getting 72 projects valued at $2 billion funded in the near future.

Of the 72 suggested improvements, 24 were recommended for VDOT’s Staunton District, which includes Frederick County. These projects would cost an estimated $886 million.

Several potential improvements in Frederick County, such as widening the interstate and adding auxiliary lanes from Exits 313 to 317, were not recommended as part of the initial $2 billion investment. This drew an outcry from local law enforcement and elected officials, many of whom reached out to VDOT officials asking for a review.

“I think the backlash was swift,” Del. Dave LaRock, R-Hamilton, said on Friday. Leaving the Winchester/Frederick County portion of the interstate out of the initial funding was “clearly a mistake,” he said.

“I made my displeasure known to the Secretary [of Transportation],” Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, said on Friday.

Mannell said on Friday that, after an initial public meeting in Staunton in October, CTB member F. Dixon Whitworth Jr. came to VDOT expressing a desire to get the stretch of I-81 in Frederick County added to the list of high priority changes.

At Whitworth’s direction, VDOT altered the plan to cut costs in some areas, including changing a proposed widening in Rockbridge County to a shoulder improvement. “That’s how we were able to fund the improvements in the Winchester area,” Mannell said.

Mannell said VDOT will submit the plan on the first day of the General Assembly if the CTB approves it on Wednesday.

The CTB’s approval of the I-81 plan would not make the changes a done deal. The General Assembly must approve and fund them, potentially during the 2019 legislative session, which convenes in Richmond on Jan. 9.

How the project will be paid for hasn’t been determined.

The Transportation Committee has discussed some options for funding work on I-81. Options include tolls, a 0.7 percent increase in retail sales tax and use tax and a 2.1 percent increase in regional gas and diesel-only taxes.

Mannell said a number of funding proposals would be included in presentations to the General Assembly.

— Contact Onofrio Castiglia at

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