Six States Seek Stimulus Aid to Add Rail to Congestion-Plagued I-81

Interstate 81 stretches for 846 miles through six states — New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee — and serves as a crucial corridor for freight traffic. But crucial doesn’t mean safe or enjoyable, and I-81 is an undisputed hotbed of traffic accidents.

PH2009073103825.jpgThe safety and freight challenge that is I-81. (Photo: WaPo)

As the Washington Post reported in July, one out of every four vehicles on I-81 is a truck, a higher rate than the road was designd for. Between 2003 and 2007, the Post found, I-81’s accident fatality rate was nearly twice the size of the much larger I-95, which experienced more crashes overall.

So what can be done to keep freight cargo moving while making I-81 safer and more efficient? Unfortunately, environmental groups and local residents have spent much of their time fighting off plans to widen the highway, including an $11.4 billion effort to double the number of lanes for nearly half the length of the road.

But that misguided pursuit of more lanes could be coming to an end, judging from today’s news out of Roanoke, where the I-81 Corridor Coalition has been holding its annual meeting.

Virginia Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer told the gathering that the six states along I-81, in adition to several southern neighbors, are seeking $300 million in economic stimulus aid to pay for expansion of freight rail.

It’s likely that the six states are seeking money from the stimulus law’s TIGER grant program, a $1.5 billion U.S. DOT congestion-reduction fund that has drawn intense interest, in the form of $57 billion worth of applications.

Given the fierce competition for TIGER awards, and Homer’s estimate that rail upgrades to the I-81 corridor would cost more than $2.1 billion, it’s worth asking whether that stimulus request could have been even larger — and whether the U.S. DOT can continue distributing merit-based grants even after the stimulus money has been spent.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Freight Rail, Streetcars Are Tops in Stimulus’ TIGER Chase

|
The Obama administration today announced the winners of $1.5 billion stimulus in highly competitive stimulus grants under the program known as Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER. Southeastern and midwestern freight rail projects were the day’s biggest winners, with urban streetcar projects also making a big splash. Freight rail in Chicago, where the CREATE […]

A Day After Their TIGER Win, Freight Railroads Carve Out More Turf

|
The freight rail industry yesterday claimed the top three awards in the Obama administration’s competition for $1.5 billion in TIGER stimulus grants, with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood singling out train shippers for an online shout-out: (Chart: AAR) You know, although passengers and commuters have human faces, we need to remember that trade depends upon the […]

LaHood, Biden Meet With Governors on High-Speed Rail

|
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Vice President Biden met at the White House this afternoon with officials from 20 states in contention for funding as part of the Obama administration’s high-speed rail program. The high-speed Midwest Regional Rail Initiative’s proposed reach. (Photo: Michigan Messenger) "This is how the interstate highway system started, folks," Biden told […]

Maryland Police: Fallen Cyclist Shouldn’t Have Been on the Road

|
Around the Streetsblog Network today: Following Cyclist’s Hit-and-Run Death, Police Officers Blame the Victim: Alex Canales Hernandez, 25, was killed this week while cycling on Maryland’s Ritchie Highway — the same deadly highway that took the lives of two pedestrians in a single day in 2005. The police response? Cyclists probably shouldn’t be on Ritchie […]