Plan to widen Interstate 81 falls apart

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by Jessica Sabbath

A major partner in the proposed public-private partnership to widen Interstate 81 has pulled out, sinking a $13 billion plan to widen the highway with tolls.

KBR Inc. said the project no longer fit its business profile and had not been able to come to an agreement with Virginia Department of Transportation officials on terms. KBR was one of seven businesses in Star Solutions, a group of businesses that had proposed a major overhaul to I-81, including additional lanes in most of the state.

I-81, which travels through the Shenandoah Valley and the western part of the state, is an important economic highway through the state. Trucks are so prevalent on the road that in some places they equal the number of cars. Safety and congestion have been major concerns on the roadway.

Even though KBR pulled out, VDOT says it will continue with plans to add two truck-climbing lanes in Rockbridge and Montgomery counties. It says it does not have the funding for a wide-scale widening of the highway.

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