Interstate 81 (I-81) is an 855-mile interstate highway with a general North-South orientation, traversing six states from Tennessee to New York. Within Virginia, I-81 travels through the western portion of the state between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Alleghany Mountains to the west.
Project Type:Limited Access Road Project Mode:Highway Average Annual Daily Traffic:26,635 Length (mi):325.00
Economic Distress:0.73 Population Density (ppl/sq mi):136 Population Growth Rate (%):1.23
Employment Growth Rate (%):0.00 Market Size:83,203 Airport Travel Distance:43.0542 Topography:17
Region:Southeast State:VA County:Bristol CITY, Washington, Smyth, Wythe, Pulaski, Montgomery, Botetourt, Roanoke, Rockbridge, Augusta, Staunton, Rockingham, Shenandoah, Warren, Frederick,
City:Bristol, Roanoke, Harrisonburg, and Winchester. Urban/Class Level:Mixed Local Area:N/A
Impact Area:County Transportation System:Highway GIS Lat/Long:38.690993 / -78.655443
Initial Study Date:1969 Post Constr. Study Date:2002
Constr. Start Date:1957 Constr. End Date:1987
Project Year of Expenditure (YOE): 1987 Planned Cost (YOE $):N/A
Actual Cost (YOE $):978,910,000 Actual Cost (curr $):5,455,596,576
NOTE: All pre/post dollar values are in 2013$
Select a region to display the conditions for that region:
NOTE: All impact dollar values are in 2013$
|Income (in $M's)||1059.40||540.32||1599.72|
|Output (in $M's)||3627.81||1850.28||5478.09|
Interstate 81 (I-81) is an 855-mile interstate highway with a general North-South orientation, traversing six states from Tennessee to New York. Within Virginia, I-81travels through the western portion of the Commonwealth between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Alleghany Mountains to the west. The interstate facilitates the movement of people, goods and services between the relatively smaller metropolitan areas located along the route. I-81 also provides an alternative to I-95, which connects the major metropolitan areas along the northeast coast and in the southern states. I-81 carries a relatively high volume of truck traffic and has promoted the development of logistics, distribution, and various manufacturing establishments along the route. The highway has also attracted lodging facilities, truck stops, restaurants, and refill stations. The project is responsible for 37,000 total jobs in the area.
2.1 Location & Transportation Connections
In Virginia, I-81 is a 325-mile long corridor running from the southwest corner of the state at the Tennessee border, and traveling northeast through thirteen counties, and then into West Virginia. The jurisdictions through which it passes include Frederick County, Winchester, Warren County, Shenandoah County, Rockingham County, Harrisonburg, Augusta County (within close proximity to Staunton and Waynesboro), Rockbridge County (within close proximity to Lexington and Buena Vista), Botetourt County, Roanoke County, (with close proximity to Roanoke City), Salem, Montgomery County, Radford, Pulaski County, Wythe County, Smyth County, Washington County, and Bristol. Throughout most of the Commonwealth, I-81 runs parallel to the West Virginia border between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Alleghany Mountains to the west, and is situated along the limited flat and developable land of the valley floor.
It connects with I-66 (providing access to Washington D.C.), I-64 (which runs from West Virginia to Richmond), and I-77 (which from West Virginia to North Carolina.) I-81 overlaps with I-77 for a short segment near Wytheville, and overlaps with I-64 between Lexington and Staunton. I-81 parallels both route U.S. 11 and a major Norfolk Southern rail line. Also, an inland port at Front Royal is located just east of I-81, near the interchange with I-66 in the northern part of the Commonwealth. It also connects with the port facilities in Norfolk/Hampton Roads via I-64 and US-460.
2.2 Community Character & Project Context
A majority of the I-81 corridor in Virginia is comprised of rural communities or relatively small metropolitan areas. Population within the corridor region has grown at a rate comparable to that of the Commonwealth of Virginia., Over a 33 year period, the corridor's population increased from 655,000 in 1969 to 912,000 in 2002. In 2000, the employment in the corridor amounted to just over 568,000. In 2002, the per capita personal income within the corridor was $24,900, appreciably lower than the per capita personal income at the statewide or national level, which measured $31,700 and $29,900, respectively.
As the longest continuous interstate highway within the Commonwealth, I-81 passes through an array of communities that range in character and composition. The corridor length is generally defined by the mountainous flanks and the valleys in which it is aligned. A variety of industries are represented along the corridor, including agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and hospitality services, trucking, distribution, and educational services.
Interstate 81 was developed as part of the Interstate Highway System and authorized by the Federal-Aid Highways Act of 1956. In Virginia, construction began in December 1957, with most segments of the freeway entirely completed by 1971. However, it was not until 1987 that the highway was completed with the construction of the I-77/I-81 overlap in the southern portion of the Commonwealth within Wythe County.
As a route, the alignment predates colonial development. It was a trail for natives and was the logical and only viable alternative for passing between the Alleghany and Blue Ridge mountain ranges that envelop the corridor on either side. Route US-11 and a Norfolk Southern rail line, both paralleling I-81 and the adjoining mountain ranges, were both in place prior to the construction of I-81.
4.1 Transportation Impacts
I-81 serves both local markets and interstate commerce. It carries a large volume of trucks serving destinations along the east coast. Sections of the interstate exhibit some of the highest percentages of truck traffic in the entire interstate system. In Virginia, truck traffic on I-81 averages 26 % of all traffic. The highway is considered one of the most strategically important north-south trucking routes in the nation.
I-81 is utilized as a north-south alternative to the more congested I-95 because it provides more predictable travel times. With increasing demands for just-in-time logistics, travel predictability is becoming increasingly important for shipping.
Supplanting US 11 as the main thoroughfare along the valley floor, I-81 has diverted a significant portion of the longer-distance traffic away from the town and city centers along the corridor. US 11 now carries primarily local traffic. Local retail shops and restaurants have located along US 11, and while the I-81 corridor has attracted medium and large scale manufacturing, distribution, warehousing and higher education institutions that serve a broader market area.
Due to the concentration of heavy commercial vehicles along the route, there have been safety concerns raised by passenger vehicle traffic. Options put forward for limiting heavy vehicle traffic on I-81include truck-only lanes, highway expansion, and alternative transportation mode development to divert trucks from the highway.
4.2 Demographic, Economic & Land Use Impacts
Population in the I-81 corridor has grown at a rate slightly below that of the Commonwealth of Virginia. From 1969 to 2002, the average annual population growth rate within the corridor was 1.0 %, compared to 1.4 % in the Commonwealth as a whole. Over the same period, employment in the corridor region and the Commonwealth grew by an average annual rate of 1.9 % and 2.3 %, respectively.
Despite the relatively slower population and employment growth along the corridor, I-81 has supported economic development that would not have occurred without the highway. I-81 is the only interstate arterial available for a majority of the communities in the corridor, and those communities are dependent on the highway for economic connections. It has fostered the development of manufacturing in the once agricultural region, which supports approximately one-quarter of all manufacturing employees within the Commonwealth. Transportation, warehousing, and distribution businesses have located in the corridor, with the largest example being the Front Royal inland port facility near the intersection of I-81 and I-66.
Retail trade, medical services and educational services have also increased since the construction of the interstate, especially in the section of the highway surrounding the Roanoke region. Higher education institutions are well-represented along the corridor, with as many as 30 schools (vocational, community, and four-year, and advanced degrees) along the route, educating a disproportionally large percentage of the educated workforce in the state of Virginia. The corridor does not provide significant job opportunities for graduates of its higher education facilities, and most leave the region upon graduation.
The topographical constraints of the land in the valley have resulted in high demand for the limited developable land in the corridor, consequently increasing the property values at and around the highway interchanges significantly. The easily developable flat land was developed soon after construction of the interstate, leaving limited opportunity for further expansion or redevelopment.
Communities through which the highway passes, or which lie in close proximity to the road, have realized some economic benefits from the highway. Conversely, communities bypassed by the interstate, such as Lynchburg, have experienced no economic benefits from the road.
Distribution and trucking facilities (mostly in the northern portion of the Commonwealth) likely would not have located within the corridor without the Interstate. The access the highway provides to higher educational institutions in the corridor helps these schools attract students from throughout Virginia and beyond. .
The socioeconomic growth in the corridor has lagged slightly behind that of the entire Commonwealth. It is estimated that the highway is responsible for no more than 5 percent of the employment growth the corridor has experienced.
I-81 serves a national and international trade corridor, and development along the corridor, particularly within the distributions, trucking, and warehousing industries, is greatly influenced by market fluctuations outside the region.
The terrain in the corridor has created both developmental constraints and opportunities in Virginia. It has limited developmental efforts because of the physical constraints of the region. However, the terrain on the route, especially along the southern portion, is considered to be one of the most scenic interstates and has promoted the development of a tourism and recreational industry.
6 Transportation and Land Use Connection Study: Phase 1 Report FY 2007. Roanoke Valley Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.
7 VDOT I-81 Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement
8 Detailed Proposal for the Improvements to the Interstate 81 Corridor. VDOT, STAR Solutions: Safer Transport and Roadways. September 5, 2003.
9 Fifth Planning District Regional Cluster Analysis: Final Report. Prepared for the Fifth Planning district Regional Alliance Roanoke, Virginia by ICF Consulting Economic Strategy Group. July 1999.
Roanoke Valley-Allegheny Regional Commission
Case Study Developed by Wilbur Smith Associates