Home » Talking Points – Harrisonburg Bypass/Loop Road

Talking Points – Harrisonburg Bypass/Loop Road

For more than 15 years, Rockingham residents have voiced their strong opposition to building a Harrisonburg bypass through our region’s beautiful farms, battlefields and rural hamlets. In that time, trends proved the project makes no sense.

Yet a bypass-loop road project remains in the transportation plans approved at every level of government – Rockingham County, the City of Harrisonburg, the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

CAP Loop Road Map

Rural areas don’t need it.

A Harrisonburg bypass is not needed to serve the rural areas that make Rockingham Virginia’s top agricultural producer.  In fact, a bypass through the county’s prime farm land would fragment farms and battlefields and increase rural development pressure in direct conflict with the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

A bypass won’t solve local traffic problems.

A Harrisonburg bypass won’t make it any easier for local people get to work.  Bypasses enable through travelers to avoid an area, and generally don’t help with local traffic congestion. Our traffic jams come from people trying to travel east-west, so we don’t need a destructive new north-south road.

The Stone Spring-Erickson Avenue Connector and Port Republic Road projects helped to ease our local east-west congestion.

The bypass makes all road funding tougher.

A Harrisonburg bypass on long-range plans hurts our region’s ability to plan for and fund the sensible road projects we really need. The Stone Spring (Southeast) Connector, opened for traffic in 2015 and similar needed projects should not be competing for scarce transportation funds with an unnecessary bypass and related smaller projects.

The bypass remains the single most destructive threat to Rockingham’s rural heritage.

A loop road around Harrisonburg would plow through productive farmland, the Cross Keys and Port Republic battlefields, numerous historic hamlets and agriculture-forestal conservation districts. The bypass would create tremendous pressure for development within the county’s agricultural reserve, where for 10 years zoning policies seek to preserve working lands and retain farm vitality.

Area residents repeatedly object to this threat. Hundreds of citizens turned out to oppose a loop road/I-81 bypass at public hearings in 2000, 2004, 2005 and 2006 and dozens more continue to call on local government officials to eliminate the project from road plans.

The bypass is no longer a viable I-81 strategy.

Political, financial and economic changes on the I-81 corridor make the proposed bypass inefficient, unaffordable and unfundable. Yet the bypass remains part of the state’s outdated $11.4 billion plan for the highway, which was to be funded by tolls.

The General Assembly in 2007 barred any I-81 toll without legislative approval. Current road funding can barely keep up with I-81 safety improvements as the cost of highway construction skyrocketed. So there is no way to pay for the bypass and it doesn’t belong in the I-81 plan.

The rising cost of diesel fuel, along with Norfolk Southern Railroad’s $3 billion upgrade on the I-81 corridor from New York to Texas, now shifts nearly one million trucks a year in Virginia off the highway to freight rail. Even the state’s alarming projections of future congestion on I-81 turned out to be hugely inflated, nearly nine times the actual traffic growth rate in urban areas since 2005.

The bypass also isn’t needed to ease safety problems on I-81. Dangerous highway ramps at Route 33 were improved and barricades added to the I-81 median to prevent crossover crashes. VDOT is also considering additional safety improvements at Exits 245 and 247.

Circular decision-making keeps this bad road project alive.

In 2016, Rockingham officials will have a clear opportunity to kill this bad road project when the county comprehensive plan is updated. We strongly encourage them to be the first to take the road out of their plans. The others will hopefully follow their leadership.

State legislators could also act to eliminate the bypass.

Rockingham’s state lawmakers – Senators Obenshain and Hanger and Delegates Landes, Wilt, Gilbert and Bell – joined a revived Northern Shenandoah Valley I-81 Legislative Caucus in 2013 to push for improvements to the costly, outdated state plan for the corridor.

We encourage state lawmakers to offer legislation or press the new governor and administration to amend the approved I-81 plan, starting with eliminating any reference to a bypass through Rockingham’s rural lands and battlefields.

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