I-81 is a major transportation corridor for western Maryland. It connects New York to Tennessee and beyond, and it’s one of the country’s busiest highways for truck traffic. While very little of it is actually within Maryland’s borders, it has a huge impact on traffic in the region that it is in. So, when the USDOT turned Maryland down for a grant to improve I-81, the state stepped in with a $100 million grant of its own.
Governor Larry Hogan announced the grant on January 3. In the press release about the grant, Hogan noted the potential impacts on western Maryland. He highlighted safety, economic health, and supply chain reliability as among the many reasons to improve I-81 in the region.
The improvements will mainly consist of a widening of the freeway from four to six lanes. The stretch of I-81 that runs from just south of Hagerstown to just north of the West Virginia border will undergo a lengthy widening procedure. These projects are considered Phase 2 of a larger project to improve the highway. Phase 1 only improved the highway from MD 63/68 to the West Virginia state line.
The state grant was necessary after the USDOT turned Maryland down.
The state of Maryland initially wanted a federal grant to improve I-81. However, the USDOT recently announced that it wouldn’t support the Maryland projects with grants from the Rural Surface Transportation Grant Program. Interestingly, it recently approved two grants for I-81 improvements in Virginia. However, these grants came from a different program: the Transportation Infrastructure Innovation and Finance Act (TIFIA).
After the USDOT made its announcement, Governor Hogan sprang into action. He went to the Maryland DOT to discuss other ways the state could fund the project. After all, this project is very important for a region that regularly doesn’t get enough attention from larger governmental entities. It seems as though Governor Hogan is finally listening.