Kitchen: If politicians had more foresight, I-81 wouldn't be critical.
This is my response to the back and forth between Delegate Landes and Tracy Pyles as printed in The News Virginian.
According to Steve Landes’ article published on Feb. 13th, Tracy Pyles “demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of both my work to improve Interstate 81, including House Bill 2718 (HB2718), and how legislation is passed in the General Assembly.” After reading Delegate Landes’ response I am left with further questions about his effectiveness in the General Assembly and his unwavering willingness to kowtow to Republican leadership in more wealthy localities within the Commonwealth.
Steve Landes has been in office since 1996 — the same year I received my learners permit. In the past 20+ years that I have been driving I have noticed, as has everyone else who travels Interstate 81 on a regular basis, that it has become exponentially more dangerous every year. I would be really interested in hearing an explanation as to why it wasn’t until 2014 that Delegate Landes felt it was important to introduce a bill to direct VDOT to work on a study to identify a list of congestion relief and safety improvements projects along the I-81 corridor. Furthermore I would be interested to know why he felt a 10 year timeline would be efficient and effective in reducing incidents, my guess is that it starts with an “m” and ends with “oney.”
Why did it take until 2018 to introduce Budget Amendment 420, # 2h? And even more than that I would like to know how funding for positions to increase traffic enforcement in Area Office 14 (Shenandoah), 16 (Rockingham), and 17 (Augusta), was meant to be a solution to an interstate corridor that is 324.92 miles long and has approximately 46,400 vehicles traveling it daily.
After receiving “noncommittal” responses from the members of Virginia’s Congressional Delegation and our two U.S. Senators who represent the I-81 corridor when requesting along with sixteen other members of the General Assembly did they simply give up? Where is the commitment of these 17 General Assembly members when it comes to the safety and well-being of the people they were elected to represent?
The bill introduced by Landes this year, HB 2718, completely ignored the requests of the trucking industry serving Central Virginia. In multiple meetings over 2018, discussing the Corridor Improvement Plan, constituents of Landes stood up and specifically asked that there not be tolls on I-81. Furthermore they stated that they would like to see the fuel tax in the I-81 corridor increased to address the improvements that are needed immediately, and after that to be used for future projects that are inevitable as the Commonwealth continues to grow.
As for the budget amendment included in the House budget requiring VDOT to redirect $5 million in the second year of the budget from existing maintenance funding to enhance safety service patrol services across the Commonwealth Interstate system, specifically citing the need for I-81, how does taking money away from maintenance on an already under maintained and over trafficked interstate solve a problem? Why is the focus on allocating $5 million to the entire Commonwealth for safety service patrol services to clear incident-related delays instead of working to make Interstates safer in an effort to reduce incidents —which are often fatal — from happening in the first place.
The substitute for HB 2718 may start the process to solve the challenges we face for the I-81 corridor but that is a process that should have begun 20+ years ago. We need to have people in the General Assembly who understand the value of working on projects before they become critical. If we had representatives in place who had the foresight necessary to keep Virginians safe we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Perhaps if we weren’t so wrapped up in solving a problem everyone has seen coming for over two decades we could put more energy into expanding access to broadband internet connection and working towards solutions to better improve school funding —but I’ll tackle those issues in a future article.
Jennifer Kitchen lives in Augusta County and is a candidate for the 25th District House of Delegates.