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Coalition to address I-81 corridor issues

September 24, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

HAGERSTOWN

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Legislators from four states approved a resolution Friday to form a multistate coalition to support plans and projects affecting traffic on the Interstate 81 corridor, an action they say could aid in improving traffic, information and law enforcement along the highway, as well as helping secure federal funding for construction projects.

The resolution, approved during the annual Quad-State Legislative Conference, asks that governors and transportation officials from Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia appoint representatives to "an I-81 Corridor Coalition."

The coalition would meet regularly to discuss regional approaches to maintenance and construction projects, as well as lobbying federal officials on behalf of the interstate, the resolution says.

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Lawmakers heard about how a similar coalition works for Interstate 95 from Maryland Highway Administrator Neil Pedersen, who currently chairs the I-95 Corridor Coalition, and from John Baniak, the coalition's executive director.

Baniak told the group that the coalition developed in the early 1990s because "when something major happens (along the interstate), it affects a lot of states."

Right now, the coalition is working on projects to get pertinent messages and information to drivers along the interstate, improve clearance of obstructions and traffic jams, and develop a regional evacuation plan - a need that was being demonstrated in Texas by traffic jams created by residents fleeing Hurricane Rita as the legislators met.

The coalition "is not a policymaking body, but an operations and fact-finding body," Baniak said.

The lawmakers also heard from highway officials in all four states that current traffic volumes on I-81 likely will double by 2030.

Pedersen noted that while only 12 miles of the interstate run through Washington County, those 12 miles include "the greatest frequency of interchanges" along the route, all of which were built before current standards were adopted. The total cost to update them all - and add another lane to handle increased traffic - would be about $400 million, he said.

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