Truck traffic along Virginia's I-81 corridor will almost double in 16 years, and railroads should help relieve the congestion, according to a study produced by the state's Department of Transportation.
However, before any cargo can be diverted from truck to rails, the public sector will have to pay for track modernization.
The study was released as part of a panel's study evaluating proposals from builders who want to widen I-81 and, perhaps, add truck-only lanes. Even with widening, the road will not be able to handle the expected increases traffic and rails may be the best alternative.
Rail improvements could cost about $500 million and would divert about 500,000 trucks per year from the I-81 highway corridor, the study noted. If other states joined in the rail upgrade, the investment could reach $2.8 billion and divert about 700,000 trucks per year from I-81 in Virginia alone. In the best case scenario, states along a swath from Texas to New Jersey would have to invest between $7.3 and $7.9 billion over 10 to 12 years. This would divert almost 3 million truckloads per year to rail.
Funding is a challenge and the Federal Highway Administration is researching whether it is legal to use highway tolls for rail improvements, said Mal Kerley, state transportation department chief engineer.
The report titled “The Northeast – Southeast – Midwest Corridor Marketing Study” is available at www.drpt.state.va.us .