Governor Northam announces bi-partisan plan to improve Interstate 81

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) - It can be a nightmare we all have to deal with once in a while: driving I-81.

The Governor agrees with Virginia drivers, and it appears he's committed to pushing through legislation to fix it. But it would require you to do your part.

Tuesday, Tony Muccino is driving the interstate for work, stopping at the Ironto Rest Area for a few moments.

"Well it's very dangerous," he said of the interstate. The speed limits are high and there's a lot of trucks. I basically feel that it's dangerous."

Governor Ralph Northam agrees it's time for a change.

“Interstate 81 is the economic engine of western Virginia, and it’s time we take decisive action to enhance the safety and improve the reliability of this key corridor,” said Governor Northam in a press release. “I am committed to working with legislators on both sides of the aisle to establish a dedicated funding source that will support the critical improvements that Interstate 81 needs to move goods and people around the Commonwealth.”

Tuesday he announced bi-partisan legislation to drive through $2.2 billion dollars to dedicate to I-81 corridor improvements.

According to the press release from Northam, "The proposal would establish limits on toll rates and give automobiles and small trucks the ability to purchase an annual pass allowing unlimited use of I-81 for a fixed yearly fee. Revenues collected would only be used for improvements included in the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan that was adopted by the Board at its December meeting."

Tony Muccino says he can roll with that.

"As long as they were reasonable I think they'd be OK," he said.

That idea also has the support of Joyce Waugh.

"I think this is a very good start," she said.

The President of the Roanoke Regional Chamber is even sporting a pin on her lapel to prove it. It's a minuature highway sign that reads, IMPROVE 81.

"I'm hopeful that there is enough momentum to make something good happen this year," she said.

Waugh said time is money, and believes businesses are afraid they'll lose both, citing unpredictability and danger on the interstate.

She thinks tolls can make a world of difference to the people who use 81.

"You know whats that old saying, don't tax you, don't tax me, tax the man behind the tree?" she said. "...And you know I'm sorry but the man behind the tree, or the woman behind the tree, is us and we all have to be willing to do our share to make some substantial improvements."

She is optimistic given the bipartisan support.

And Muccino too is eager to see what else this proposal has in store.

"If it's bi-partisan, that means a lot."

According to the press release sent out Tuesday, the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Program legislation will be led by Senators Mark Obenshain and Bill Carrico in the Senate, and by Delegates Steve Landes and Terry Austin in the House.

Northam's staffers tell us the full text of the proposal should be released later this week. Taxpayers will have to wait see if the proposal also includes any additional use or fuels taxes to steer this legislation.