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Debate over Interstate 81 funding to continue

(WDBJ)
Published: Feb. 26, 2019 at 7:18 PM EST
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State Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) wasn't hiding his disappointment as the General Assembly session came to a close.

"The conference committee fell apart," Edwards said. "We got absolutely nothing. Talk about frustration!"

Edwards and other lawmakers were trying to find a way to fund major improvements on Interstate 81, but came away empty -handed.

"We came that close to fixing I-81 and also other interstates throughout the Commonwealth," Edwards told WDBJ7, "and it ended up with a total bust. We got absolutely nothing."

Trucking companies and manufacturers feared the impact of tolls on their bottom line, and said they were being asked to shoulder an unfair burden.

Lawrence Transportation wants to see improvements on I-81, but hopes a year of study will bring a tax plan that shares the responsibility.

K.T. Treat is the company's Business Development Manager.

"We feel like it's time for us to just come together," Treat said, "and pass the tax bill and start improving I-81."

The debate over who should pay and how much they should contribute will continue, as lawmakers try to craft a proposal that can pass next year.

Rebekah Gunn is Vice President of Public Policy and Strategic Issues for the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"The community needs to weigh in and engage on this issue," Gunn told us Tuesday afternoon. "It's too critical, too important to ignore much longer."

Supporters of Interstate 81 improvements did leave Richmond with plans for a study, and an I-81 committee.