Via Kellen Stepler, Daily News Record, December 12, 2022

The United States Department of Transportation announced it has awarded nearly $98 million in loans for safety improvements on Interstate 81 in Virginia. While the loans won’t directly fund the I-81 Harrisonburg widening project or the Weyers Cave truck climbing lanes, it will accelerate other projects through the design and construction process.

USDOT officials said in a news release that the department’s Build America Bureau has provided two low-interest loans totaling $97.6 million for improvements to I-81 to the Commonwealth Transportation Board. The loans, one for up to $15 million and one for up to $82.6 million, enable VDOT to finance and expedite part of its $2.7 billion I-81 Capital Improvement Program.

The project extends the acceleration and deceleration and merge and diverge areas at various access points along the interstate. It also makes a number of improvements along the interstate in Roanoke County.

State legislation in 2019 and 2020 created the I-81 Capital Improvement Program and Fund, developing funding streams and authorized issuance of bonds to support the program. In July 2021, VDOT submitted letters of interest for the USDOT loans for the capital improvement projects on the I-81 corridor. The Commonwealth Transportation Board approved the loan arrangements in October; it entered the loan agreement with USDOT on December 7, 2022.

Local I-81 capital improvements include the six-lane widening in Harrisonburg, from mile marker 242 to 248.8, and truck climbing lanes near Weyers Cave. VDOT officials expect project plan approval for the Harrisonburg widening project in early 2023. Authorities estimate a 2025 construction start date for the Weyers Cave project.