Aug. 7, 2018—The Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board, now under mandate to come up with a plan to deal with highway congestion on Interstate 81 through the Shenandoah Valley, plans to consider an innovative rail solution to the problem. That is the report from David Foster, chairman of the non-profit lobby group RAIL Solution, who is leading a campaign in favor of the plan.
Foster penned an article published in the Roanoke Times Aug. 2, in which he detailed the plan for a “Truck Ferry” to carry long-haul trucks by train over the length of the I-81 corridor from Knoxville, Tennessee to Harrisburg, Virginia. The “Truck Ferry” system calls for heavy long-haul trucks to be transported by rail over long distances, thereby both relieving traffic and providing respite for drivers who are subject to federal regulations as to how many hours they can drive without rest. The plan, which was featured in AmericanSystemNow’s recent post on Virginia infrastructure projects, would require the construction of a new rail track along right-of-way already owned by Norfolk Southern, at a cost considerably lower than other alternatives.
The alternatives being discussed include widening the interstate, and adding heavier tolls on heavy trucks. Experience in other locales has indicated that neither “solution” would reduce the truck traffic, and the resulting traffic snarls.
In his oped, Foster noted that the “truck ferry” idea has been implemented in Europe, but so far has not been tried in the United States.
Forty-two percent of the truck miles logged in Virginia currently go along the I-81 Corridor, which is frequently subject to blockages due to accidents. For this reason, the Virginia General Assembly this year passed SB971, which directs the Commonwealth Transportation Board to come up with an improvement plan, with a deadline of the first day of the 2019 General Assembly.
Foster reports that Commonwealth Secretary of Transportation Valentine told him that “multi-modal” options—i.e., the combination of rail with truck traffic—will be considered during the study, as well as taxation and more highway construction.
The added consideration, of course, will be the availability of financing for the rail construction plan, which ideally should be electric rail. Once again, the problem calls out for the creation of an Infrastructure Bank to provide long-term, low-interest credit for projects that will clearly upgrade the productivity of the economy.