I-81/40 Prototype Demonstration
Rationale for this Resolution and Endorsement
Nationally and in Virginia, a large drop in vehicle miles traveled and a huge increase in rail passengers and freight has resulted from rising energy prices. But, our most energy-efficient mode—rail—is not funded nor designed for expected continuing shifts to rail. At the moment rail cannot handle a large shift in passengers or freight from our highways; it cannot even maintain existing market share. (Virginia’s population is projected to increase 30 per cent by 2030.) Unless we reorder transportation investment priorities, both the Commonwealth and the nation place at risk our economic vitality, mobility, competitiveness, and quality of life.
21st-Century rail, what we term “steel interstate” service, is capable of handling large numbers of time-sensitive freight and passengers. It is not the slower, bulk and carload freight operation traditionally provided by the U. S. Class 1 railroads or proposed by Norfolk Southern for its “Crescent Corridor”. A steel interstate will provide increased freight and passenger capacity in corridors where highway dependency is prohibitively expensive and/or environmentally unsound. It will maximize the energy efficiency and competitiveness of the nation’s and Virginia’s economy.
Fifty years ago, we built a national interstate highway system that initially made highway travel much faster and more productive. Now, that system, clogged by freight that the “superhighways” diverted from the railroad, is in desperate need of repair. The government of the United States of America must remedy national interstate highway congestion, but not with the old “solutions” of condemnation and pavement widening. We must develop our railroads with a technological leap in capacity and productivity analogous to how interstates initially improved highway travel. Much of the Norfolk Southern mainline, paralleling I-81 runs on a rail bed laid out in the 19th Century. To relieve I-81 congestion and avoid unacceptable widening costs, we must leapfrog rail infrastructure into the 21st Century. What the interstates did for surface transportation in the 20th Century, rail can do in the 21st Century. The steel tracks are where America’s next great productivity advance in moving people and freight lies.
We, whose economic life blood flows up and down the I-81 corridor, whose safety is at risk from the increasing number of trucks traveling through our communities, and who breathe the valley air after each vehicle accelerates beyond our borders, respectfully urge our U. S. representatives and senators to introduce to Virginia, to other I-81 Corridor states, and to the whole nation, the cheaper, cleaner, safer, faster, more flexible, environmentally benign and beneficial for business 21st-Century railroad.
The I-81 Corridor transportation problems and potential:
· Heavy truck traffic has grown to an average annual daily traffic count of 26% of all I-81 traffic. This Interstate was designed for just 15% trucks. Truck traffic exceeds 40% at some times and places. Truck traffic is expected to increase 135-150%, [2003 figures, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), I-81 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), 2006] although high fuel prices and economic recession have reversed the growth in vehicle miles for the first time in memory.
· The number and severity of accidents along certain portions of I-81 is alarming, [VDOT, I-81 EIS, 2006].
· The I-81 Corridor between Tennessee and Pennsylvania is among the very busiest truck freight corridors in the United States, offering an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the advantages of fast 21st Century rail passenger and freight service, [U. S. Department of Transportation, 2000 figures].
· Norfolk-Southern Corporation estimates that 60% of truck traffic on I-81 passes through Virginia with neither an origin nor a destination in Virginia, and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation determined that with appropriate public investment much of this traffic is divertible to rail [2006 H-1581 I-81 Freight Rail Study, 2003 draft Northeast-Southeast-Midwest Corridor Marketing Study].
· Roughly 5% of freight in the East Corridor (including I-81) travels by rail, while 40% between New York to Chicago does, and 80% between Chicago and Los Angeles.
· Last year, VDOT abandoned contract talks with STAR Solutions under the Public- Private Transportation Act, but it still proposes costly expansions of I-81.
· Because Virginia has insufficient money to rebuild all of I-81, VDOT is studying tolls for I-81, a very unpopular alternative.
· Conventional intercity passenger trains and mid-range intermodal trains can compatibly share tracks engineered for 21st-Century rail.
· Higher speed rail freight offers a valuable price and time-competitive option. It can build intermodal partnerships between truckers and shipping companies, a vanguard service which will revolutionize regional economic development. The new railway would provide a permanent, multi-state shipping alternative--one capable of absorbing all traffic growth for freight and passenger traffic now captive to I-81.
· Higher speed freight rail would allow widely-demanded regional passenger service to operate at auto-competitive speed without disrupting rail freight traffic.
· The imposition of I-81 tolls—projected in the VDOT EIS to cost up to $113 per truck trip on just Virginia’s portion of I-81—would devastate community business and economic prospects and force some existing businesses to move or close.
· The twelve or more years required to reconstruct I-81 would be damaging to business. Railroad capacity additions would keep I-81 free of or with minimal tolls and relieve the burden of construction hazards.
· Highway expansion endangers localities already teetering on the edge of “ground level ozone or particulate non-attainment” areas. This Environmental Protection Agency designation places harsh limits on industrial development. A steel interstate will sharply cut emissions and avoid development limits on our communities.
· Fast and efficient rail service would release our businesses from penalties associated with Federal carbon cap legislation.
· The Steel Interstate System is a nearly perfect long-term investment. Compare VDOT’s $11 billion proposal for I-81 improvement—only serving Virginia—to about $15 billion to upgrade Norfolk Southern Railway’s entire parallel line from Memphis, TN, to Harrisburg, PA, a distance three times as great.
· Financing rail is less burdensome. Contrast the imposition of highway tolls to taxpayer-financed bonds repaid by Norfolk Southern user fees.
· Moving truck freight by rail makes transportation maintenance far cheaper. VDOT calculates trucks cause $.19 per mile damage to interstates. An improved Norfolk Southern system would (1) reimburse matching state bond investments through user fees, (2) pay taxes on land and equipment, and (3) provide its own maintenance. Senate Joint Resolution 55 (p. 24) shows Virginia now saving $.05 per truck mile on freight diverted to rail. Once interstate infrastructure damage attributed to trucks is subtracted from truck road-use taxes, Virginians must come up with a hefty—and unsustainable—subsidy for trucks.
· Road-building commitments, no matter how structured, represent a substantial risk to the state’s financial rating. Costly highway projects, financed by tolls, face risk of dramatic fuel cost increases or supply disruptions, which force rising tolls chasing fewer and fewer drivers willing to pay.
· More trucks also portend increased transportation cost penalties from anticipated from federal carbon cap legislation.
Safety, Convenience, and Implementation-time concerns:
· Rail traffic is extremely safe compared the record of trucks and cars. Adding barriers and eliminating medians to add lanes results in highways less tolerant of driver error.
· Building a high-capacity railroad can be completed more rapidly than I-81 widening.
· Years of highway construction, exported instead to the rail line, reduces hazards to drivers and construction personnel and negative impacts on local businesses.
· The numbers of fatigued truck and automobile drivers on the highways would be diminished by competitive rail service.
· With an upgraded railroad, trucks would not try using secondary roads to evade tolls.
· 21st-Century rail eliminates many hazards and many traffic-delaying grade crossings, with their requirement for noisy train whistles. In urban areas, trains may travel in a trench below street level.
Environmental, historic preservation and public health advantages of rail:
· Virginians will experience an 80% reduction in diesel particulate, nitrous and sulfur-oxides, and greenhouse gas emissions for each ton of freight diverted to rail.
· Diverting freight to rail will improve air quality, reducing the incidence of respiratory illness and death. Our people will be healthier, happier, and more productive.
· Declining diesel emissions would enhance visibility, while diminishing acidification of streams, in Shenandoah National Park, and in Washington and Jefferson National Forests, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area, enhancing their value for tourists and fishing enthusiasts. Fewer highway lanes diminish hydrocarbon and ice-melting chemical runoff into streams and groundwater.
· Railroads’ toxic hauling safety record is superior to that of trucks.
· Private land, whether farms, forests, businesses, or wildlife habitat and corridors, would be largely protected. Interstate construction condemns at least one and a half acres for every lane mile built. An enlarged interstate thus reduces tax revenues, destroys small communities in its path, and severely fragments wildlife habitat. Whereas rail improvements—built largely on existing rights-of-way—would impose a smaller burden upon the land.
· More highway lanes, barriers, sound walls and vast interchanges contribute to ugliness along one of the nation's most beautiful interstates, while rail improvements exact a lesser toll on the beauty of our rural landscape.
· Rail freight and passenger service promote more appropriate land use planning and less sprawl than does expanded highway capacity.
· I-81 already encroaches on Civil War battlefields; expansion would exacerbate the threat to historic sites. Rail expansions would be less intrusive.
· An “East Coast Truck By-pass” would require increased importation of oil (already an alarming 60 per cent). Rail freight is hugely more fuel-efficient and can be electrified to utilize renewably generated sources.
“Steel Interstate” rail characteristics:
· Entirely dual track with additional sidings allowing slower bulk and carload freight trains to operate in concert with faster high-performance passenger and open intermodal trains from Memphis to Harrisburg,
· All grade crossings eliminated, replaced by frequent cross-overs, tracks buried in trenches with streets above, or relocated to bypass congested areas,
· Curves smoothed for speed increases, alignments re-engineered for higher average speeds (not to exceed 110 mph),
· Positive train control signaling,
· Regional intermodal terminals,
· Average train speed 60 mph with all trains scheduled and operated with 98+ percent on-time reliability,
· Frequent, scheduled, and truck-like reliable service, competitively priced, offering a variety of “open intermodal” accommodation for all types of trucks,
· Rail expansion projects employing context sensitive-solutions involving extensive public involvement, careful analysis of impacts, consideration of alternatives, and appropriate design.
Please send a copy of the completed Resolution to:
David Foster, Executive Director
342 High Street
Salem, VA 24153