STAR blinks out of I-81
STAR Solutions, the big business consortium that seems to have terrified many localities in the Shenandoah Valley with its $13 billion plan to put tolls and/or extra lanes on I-81, backed away yesterday from further planning with the Virginia Department of Transportation.
"They've now folded up their tent and gone away," says David L. Foster, the exultant director of Rail Solution, a group formed for the purpose of derailing Star Solutions. The group decried VDOT's refusal to consider that freight railroading might obviate much of the need to expand already truck-heavy I-81.
It was Rail Solution, after all, that published dramatic–- some might say nightmarish–- renderings of how a football field-wide I-81 might appear on the bucolic Virginia landscape. But what particularly riled the group was VDOT's seeming insistence on dealing only with STAR for I-81's future–- something Foster's group called an "exclusive entitlement."
State legislators were miffed enough last year to unanimously pass a bill written by Shenandoah Valley Delegate Ben Cline that forced VDOT to study interstate rail as a possible solution before committing to a massive expansion of I-81.
Although some conservation groups filed suit against the Federal Highway Administration in December, Foster believes that it might have been a FOIA request by his group that ended up killing STAR Solutions.
What hasn't died with Wednesday's announcement that STAR is quitting the I-81 business is the desire to build $145 million worth of additional truck-climbing lanes in two Virginia counties, Rockbridge and Montgomery.
"They simply will be bid like any other VDOT project," says a relieved Foster.
As for his group, Foster says the work isn't over. Rail Solution wants to see the results of Cline's bill, the joint Norfolk Southern-VDOT rail study, expected later this year. But for now Foster says, "There's a tendency to get out some balloons and champagne and do a little chest-pumping."