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Economic Development History of Interstate 81 in Virginia


1 Interstate 81: The Roadway

1.1 Project Length/Location

Interstate 81 is a major north-south freeway in the eastern United States. I-81 generally links the Northeast with the non-Atlantic South; more than 800 miles from its northern terminus at the Canadian border in upstate New York to its southern endpoint near Dandridge, Tenn. (about 25 miles east of Knoxville). I-81 does not enter major metropolitan areas; it serves smaller cities such as Roanoke, Va.; Hagerstown, Md.; Harrisburg and Scranton, Penn.; and Binghamton and Syracuse, N.Y. It is the freight-service back road to the Northeastern megalopolis.

This study focuses on Virginia's 325 mile-long segment of I-81. Interstate 81 enters Virginia near Bristol from the Kingsport-Johnson City area of northeastern Tennessee. It exits into West Virginia's eastern panhandle north of Winchester. The largest cities on or near the highway include Bristol, Roanoke, Harrisonburg, and Winchester.

The map shows the location of I-81. It traverses portions of thirteen counties in Virginia.

I-81 is numbered as a north-south highway but lies on a northeast-southwest orientation. Its entry point from Tennessee is more than 200 miles west of its exit point into West Virginia.

The map shows the location of I-81. It traverses portions of thirteen counties in Virginia. Within these counties are ten independent cities, municipal governments that are independent of any county. According to the latest U.S. Office of Management and Budget designations, these counties and cities are in six metropolitan areas and one micropolitan area. [2]

I-81 corridor counties in metropolitan statistical areas (MetSAs) are lightly shaded on the map. Frederick County and the City of Winchester are in the Winchester, VA-WV MetSA. Warren County is the westernmost jurisdiction in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV MetSA. The Harrisonburg, VA MetSA consists of Rockingham County and the City of Harrisonburg. Botetourt and Roanoke counties and the cities of Roanoke and Salem are in the Roanoke MetSA. The Blacksburg-Christiansburg-Radford MSA includes Montgomery and Pulaski counties and the independent city of Radford. Finally, Washington County and the City of Bristol are in the Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, TN-VA MetSA.

Augusta County and the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro compromise the Staunton-Waynesboro, VA Micropolitan Statistical Area. Five counties (Shenandoah, Augusta, Rockridge, Wythe, and Smyth) and four independent cities (Buena Vista, Lexington, Staunton, and Waynesboro) in Virginia's I-81 corridor are classified as non-metropolitan jurisdictions.

1.2 Details of Construction

The Commonwealth of Virginia constructed most sections of Interstate 81 between 1957 and 1971. By November 1963, 85 miles were open to public, all south of Roanoke except for an 11-mile stretch in Botetourt County and a 7.5-mile segment at Harrisonburg. The section from Bristol at the Tennessee-Virginia state line to Wytheville was complete by November 1964. In November 1965, the 26-mile segment from the West Virginia-Virginia state line near Winchester to the future I-66 junction at Strasburg opened, along with the 26 miles between Christiansburg and Newbern in Montgomery and Pulaski counties. Traffic began flowing on the 14-mile bypass of Lexington in September 1967. The final section north of Roanoke was built near Staunton in the late 1960s. The last major segment of I-81 that opened in Virginia was a 14.4-mile segment south of Roanoke between Dixie Caverns and Christiansburg in 1971; this essentially completed I-81 in Virginia. The final portion of I-81 in Virginia, four miles of the I-77/I-81 overlap, was constructed near Wytheville in the mid-1980s.

Most of I-81 was built as a four-lane freeway. Sections that are now six-lanes include the I-77/I-81 overlap near Wytheville, the segment between the Tennessee state line and Exit 7 in the Bristol area (widening completed in 2003), and a segment in Christiansburg. The Virginia Department of Transportation is now developing concepts to expand I-81 throughout the state. Concepts include converting it into a toll-facility and/or adding truck-only lanes.

1.3 Reason for Project Development

The I-81 corridor has been an important transportation route for centuries. Native Americans used a trail known as the Indian Warriors' Path or Shenandoah Hunting Path. [3] It evolved into the Great (Philadelphia) Wagon Road by the mid-1700s and facilitated settlement of North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The Great Wagon Road split into two branches near Big Lick (now Roanoke). One branch left the valley and went due south; the other continued west towards the Cumberland Gap and became known as the Wilderness Road, the main pioneer route across the southern Appalachian Mountains. In the mid-1800s, the main highways in the Great Valley of Virginia included the Valley Turnpike, a toll road between Winchester and Staunton, and the Southwestern Turnpike between Buchanan in Botetourt County and the Tennessee state line via Wytheville, Marion, and Abingdon. (The Southwestern Turnpike replaced the Wilderness Road. [4]) The Valley and Southwestern turnpikes were among the first Virginia highways to be surfaced with macadam pavement.

In 1918, the Valley Turnpike was included in Virginia's first state highway system. As late as 1926, it was the commonwealth's only hard-surfaced road of considerable distance; U.S. 1, then the main route between Washington, D.C., Richmond, and North Carolina, was not fully paved until 1927. [5] U.S. 11 was designated through the length of the Great Valley in this era. I-81 was constructed parallel to U.S. 11 from the late 1950s to early 1970s. Although most of the long-distance traffic in the corridor has moved to the interstate, U.S. 11 still serves as the "Main Street" for dozens of communities.

The I-81 corridor also has a long history as a railroad route. In the 1850s, the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad was constructed between Bristol and Salem, where it headed eastward instead of continuing up the Great Valley. Partially due to fears that Great Valley commerce would be channeled to Baltimore or Alexandria instead of to Richmond or Norfolk, rails were not laid in the Shenandoah Valley south of Winchester until after the Civil War [6] .

1.4 Traffic Counts

Table 1 shows average annual daily traffic (AADT) on I-81 in Virginia in selected years since the highway was completed in 1971. The Virginia Department of Transportation overhauled its traffic count system during the 1990s; this change affects comparability of data across decades [7] .

The busiest segment of I-81 is consistently in Roanoke County near the I-581 junction, traversed by 74,000 vehicles on the average day in 2003. Other segments with high traffic counts are the section north of the I-64 East junction near Staunton in Augusta County, the section through the City of Winchester, the I-77/I-81 overlap in Wythe County, and the section north of the I-381 junction in Bristol. The I-81 segment with the lowest traffic count is consistently between Marion and Wytheville in Smyth and Wythe counties (26,000 vehicles per day in 2003), followed by the segment at the Tennessee-Virginia state line.

Traffic volume on most segments of I-81 has more than tripled since 1975. AADT increased substantially in Wythe County from 1975 to 1985 due to the completion of I-77 south of I-81. The Virginia DOT Mobility Management Division and Bristol District traffic engineer explain the apparent lack of growth in AADT at the Tennessee-Virginia state line between 1995 and 2003 as a quirk due to the change of traffic counting methodology.

Table 1: Average Annual Daily Traffic on I-81: 1975-2003

Location I-81 Segment AADT (thousands of vehicles) Compounded Average Annual Growth Rate
From To 1975a 1985 a 1995 2003 1975-85 1985-95 1995-2003
Washington Co. Tennessee State Line Exit 1 (US 58, US 421) 8.2 14.0 29.0 29.0b 5.5% 7.6% 0.0%
Bristol City Exit 3 (Jxn. I-381) Exit 5 (US 11) 21.0 25.3 40.0 46.0 1.9% 4.7% 1.8%
Smyth & Wythe Exit 54 Exit 60 7.4 13.7 22.0 26.0 6.4% 4.9% 2.1%
Wythe Co.* Exit 77 Exit 80 (US 52, SR 121) 13.2 24.7 36.0 50.0 6.5% 3.8% 4.2%
Montgomery Co. Exit 105 (SR 232) Exit 109 (SR 177) 11.9 16.3 31.0 36.0 3.2% 6.6% 1.9%
Roanoke Co. Exit 141 (SR 419) Exit 143 (Jxn. I-581) 23.3 35.2 42.0b 74.0 4.2% 1.8% 7.3%
Rockbridge Co. Exit 180 (US 11) Exit 188 (US 60) 11.1 17.1 30.0 36.0 4.4% 5.8% 2.3%
Augusta Co.** Exit 221 (Jxn. I-64E) Exit 222 (US 250) 16.6 24.3 48.0 61.0 3.9% 7.0% 3.0%
Shenandoah Co. Exit 279 (SR 185) Exit 283 (SR 42) 9.6 16.6 28.0 38.0 5.6% 5.4% 3.9%
Winchester City Exit 313 Exit 315 (SR 7) 15.4 23.9 35.0 56.0 4.5% 3.9% 6.1%
Frederick Co. Exit 323 West Virginia State Line 11.0 18.5 35.0 39.0 5.3% 6.6% 1.4%

*Miles 73 to 81 of I-81 overlap with Miles 32 to 40 of I-77 east of Wytheville in Wythe County.

**Miles 191 to 221 of I-81 overlap with Miles 56 to 87 of I-64 in Rockbridge and Augusta Counties.

aCounts for 1975 and 1985 are "total vehicles" rather than true AADT.

bDatum seems unusually low in comparison with data for other I-81 highway segments. Virginia Department of Transportation traffic count engineers say that a transition in data collection methods may have caused this quirk.

Source: Virginia Department of Transportation, Mobility Management Division.

A five axle truck heads northbound on I-81 near Troutville, Va. on a June afternoon in 2004.

I-81 has substantial truck traffic that is overwhelmingly heavy-duty vehicles. In 2002, the truck percentage of AADT ranged from 22 percent near Bristol and near Roanoke (both in southbound direction) to 36 percent in Rockbridge County (both directions). No interstate highway in Virginia has more trucks as a percentage of AADT.

2 The I-81 Corridor: Great Valley of Virginia

2.1 Physical Features of I-81 Corridor

Mountains and valleys are the principal geologic features of the I-81 corridor. Situated in the Great Valley between the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains, I-81 traverses the length of Virginia's Ridge & Valley region. [8] The topography affects economic development because flat land near the highway is scarce along many stretches of the highway.

The mountains, valleys, and bucolic farms provide spectacular scenery for motorists on I-81 and contribute to the local tourism industry. Virginia's section of I-81 is regarded as one of the most aesthetically pleasing interstate routes. Natural tourist attractions in the corridor include the Natural Bridge of Virginia in Rockbridge County and at least eight commercial caves [9] .

East of the Blue Ridge is the Piedmont Plateau; Virginia's sections of U.S. 29 and I-85 generally run through the Piedmont. The Fall Line demarcates the boundary between the Piedmont Plateau and the Atlantic Coastal Plain/Tidewater region of Virginia. Washington, D.C. and Richmond are located on the Fall Line. I-95 links those metropolitan areas.

I-81 enters Virginia from the north through the Shenandoah Valley, an area that was known as the "Granary of the Confederacy" during the Civil War era and today produces apples and other crops. I-81 follows the north fork of the Shenandoah River on the west side of Massanutten Mountain from the I-66 junction at Strasburg to Harrisonburg. Ski resorts are situated in the mountains of this area. The section of I-81 around Blacksburg, Christiansburg, Radford, and Pulaski is in the New River Valley. The Holston River flows through the southwestern part of the I-81 corridor. Mount Rogers, the tallest mountain in Virginia, is south of I-81 between Wytheville and Bristol.

2.2 The I-81 Highway Network

Interstate 81 enters Virginia from the south at the Tennessee state line. I-381 is a very short route toward downtown Bristol, Va.; it opened in November 1961 concurrent with completion of the I-81 Bristol Bypass. I-81 and I-77 share an eight-mile section of six-lane freeway in Wythe County; the northern section of I-77 passes through Charleston, W.V. en route to Cleveland. I-77's southern section heads toward Charlotte, N.C. and Columbia, S.C. The Virginia sections of I-77 north and south of I-81 were completed in 1975 and 1978 respectively. [10] In the early 2000's, the Virginia DOT considered construction of a new, eight-mile highway section in order to separate I-77 and I-81, but this plan was shelved when studies began for overhaul of I-81 throughout the state. Future Interstate 74, a new highway, designated by Congress, may be routed through the Wytheville area along the alignment of I-77.

In Christiansburg, I-81 intersects with U.S. 460, the gateway to Virginia Polytechnic University. The "Smart Road," a 5.7-mile experimental highway, is under construction between I-81 and Blacksburg [11] .

In the Roanoke area, I-581 is a six-mile, six-lane spur into downtown Roanoke; it opened in sections from 1964 to 1967. I-581 continues U.S. 220, a four-lane divided highway that is a major truck route between North Carolina and I-81. East of Roanoke, U.S. 460 serves as a major east-west route across Virginia, linking Lynchburg, Petersburg, and the Norfolk area. Plans are underway to construct a new north-south interstate highway, Interstate 73, through the Roanoke area. I-581 would be re-signed as I-73; a new alignment would be constructed from south of Roanoke to the North Carolina line, parallel to U.S. 220 and to the east of Rocky Mount and Martinsville. [12] A study of the potential economic impacts of I-73 on Roanoke was prepared in 2000. [13]

Interstate 64 overlaps with I-81 for thirty miles between Lexington and Staunton. The western section of I-64 begins near Lexington and ends in St. Louis. Virginia's section west of I-81 was completed in 1979, but it was not completed through to I-77 in West Virginia until 1988. The I-64 section east of I-81 connects Staunton with Charlottesville, Richmond, and the Norfolk area; it was open to traffic between Richmond and Staunton by late 1972. (A rejected plan would have routed I-64 on a southerly route parallel to U.S. 360 and U.S. 460 via Lynchburg and the Roanoke area. [14] ) U.S. 33 passes east west through Harrisonburg.

Near the northern end of Virginia's I-81 corridor, Interstate 66 heads eastward to the Washington, D.C. area. Its connection with I-81 opened in 1971 [15] .

Corridor H of the Appalachian Regional Development Highway System is under construction in West Virginia. When the project is complete, a four-lane divided highway will exist between Elkins, W.V. and Wardensville, W.V. near the Virginia-West Virginia state line. It will be signed as U.S. 48. Virginia has no plans to continue the four-lane roadway to I-81, but has added U.S. 48 signs to the two-lane Virginia 55.

Finally, Winchester is at the crossroads of several highways: I-81, east-west U.S. 50 and Virginia 7, and north-south U.S. 17 and U.S. 522. Virginia 37 serves as a western bypass of the town. I-81 enters West Virginia a few miles north of Winchester.

As mentioned above, I-81 is on a northeast-southwest orientation in Virginia. Intersecting interstate highways are routed more closely to the cardinal points of the compass. As a consequence, many travelers utilize connecting highways that reduce travel time. For example, although it narrows to two lanes, truckers use U.S. 220 as a shortcut between Roanoke and westbound I-64. Likewise, U.S. 522 is a shortcut between Winchester and I-68 and I-70 in Maryland.

I-81 replaced U.S. 11 as the main highway through Virginia's Ridge & Valley region. In most sections, U.S. 11 parallels I-81 as a two-lane roadway. It other segments U.S. 11 is a four-lane divided highway. In a few areas U.S. 11 is co-located with I-81.

In August 2003, Interstate 26 was completed from North Carolina to I-81 in Tennessee, about 20 miles from the Virginia-Tennessee line. [16] This may alter traffic patterns on I-81 in Virginia. Heavy-duty trucks were not allowed on U.S. 23, the highway replaced by this segment of I-26.

Major railroad lines pass through the I-81 corridor, but the ones with the greatest traffic are east west rather than north south. The Norfolk Southern Shenandoah Valley route parallels I-81 throughout the state [17] .

2.3 Interstate 81 Communities

Bristol area: Bristol and Washington County are at the southern end of Virginia's section of I-81. Bristol (2000 population: 17,367) straddles the Tennessee-Virginia state line. Dairy is the highest-grossing agricultural industry, but tobacco is also important; the county ranked 76th in the nation in 2002 for value of tobacco sold. Washington County is also a major egg producer. Washington County and Bristol together produced $651 million in value added by manufacture in 1997; local factories produce compressors, plastic products, and snack foods, among other items.

Composed of counties and cities between Bristol and Wytheville, the Mount Rogers Development Partnership promotes the region as "Virginia's Corridor." Its promotional materials prominently tout the proximity to the Midwest and Northeast via I-77 and I-81.

Smyth & Wythe counties: Manufacturers in Smyth and Wythe counties produce plastics, refrigerated trailers, motor vehicle parts, aircraft parts, bricks, and wooden furniture. Saltville in Smyth County was once a significant town in the plaster and chemical industries.

Situated at a crossroads of major highways, Wythe County has long been a stopping point for travelers between Florida and the Midwest via I-77 (formerly U.S. 52) and U.S. 21 and between the Northeast and the Southeast via I-81 (formerly U.S. 11). The 1997 Census of Retail Trade found that retail sales at Wythe County gasoline stations totaled $144.4 million; only Fairfax, Henrico, Chesterfield, and Prince William counties and Virginia Beach, all metropolitan jurisdictions, registered higher figures in Virginia. Per capita gasoline sales were $5321 in Wythe County versus $828 in Virginia. The 1997 census of accommodation and foodservices concluded that the Wythe County accommodation industry generated $16.2 million in annual sales. This statistic was the largest in Virginia's non-metropolitan jurisdictions with the exception of Rockingham County, which has since been classified as part of the Harrisonburg MetSA. In 1997, the accommodation industry (NAICS Code 721) generated per capita revenue of $597 in Wythe County compared to $311 statewide.

The Wythe County Progress Park (a project of the county development authority) occupies nearly two square miles at I-81 and I-77N. Along with its crossroads location, it markets a proposed inland port intermodal facility with a direct rail link to the Hampton Roads ports.

New River Valley area: Pulaski and Montgomery counties and the independent city of Radford (pop. 15,859) are in the New River Valley. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, a major research center, is the largest employer and a catalyst for new businesses. Enrollment has grown substantially since I-81 was completed, from 10,000 in 1967-68 to over 25,000 in 2002. Radford University is the valley's other school. Factories in the region produce automobile parts, furniture, and explosives. Heavy-duty trucks have been assembled at the 293-acre Volvo Trucks North America-New River Valley Assembly Plant in Pulaski County since 1974; a Mack Truck assembly line was added in 2003, transferred from Winnsboro, S.C. Shawsville, a town on U.S. 11/U.S. 460 in Montgomery County lost business when I-81 opened.

Roanoke area: Roanoke (pop. 94,911) is the largest city in Virginia's I-81 corridor and the most populous metro area between Richmond, Greensboro, N.C., and Charleston, W.V. It is the retail and medical center for western Virginia. Roanoke developed into a major city while it was a hub of the Norfolk & Western Railway; Norfolk Southern remains a major employer.

The Roanoke area includes Botetourt County, Roanoke County, and the independent cities of Roanoke and Salem. These jurisdictions produced $2.17 billion in value added by manufacture in 1997. Roanoke produces steel and cosmetics and has a large auto parts distribution center. It has lost jobs in the textile manufacturing and finance/insurance/real estate industries. A printing plant, metal fabricator, and hardware manufacturer operate in Roanoke County. Factories in Salem (pop. 24,747) make tires, industrial controls, and meat products. Automobile parts, bricks, and cement are produced in Botetourt County.

Roanoke is almost equidistant between New York City and Atlanta. Its central location has facilitated development of "mechatronic" industries, factories that achieve great economies of scale and large market radii through computer-controlled automation. [18] The agile R.R. Donnelley printing plant is one example. The Maple Leaf Bakery distributes frozen, partially baked bread to most of the eastern U.S.; it has the nation's longest bread-making line. Foundries traditionally have been blue-collar operations, yet laboratory coated employees produce bearings at Virginia Forging.

The Roanoke area has disproportionately high retail sales for its population. I-81 allows shoppers from a hundred-mile radius to patronize the 900,000 ft2 Valley View Mall and other retail outlets in Roanoke. As a result, Roanoke city's per capita retail sales is twice the statewide figure (1997 per capita data: $19,000 in Roanoke city versus $9,200 statewide). After Valley View opened beside I-581 in northwestern Roanoke in 1985, merchants from Tanglewood (opened in southwestern Roanoke in 1973) and Crossroad malls moved some retail operations to Valley View.

Rockbridge County/Buena Vista & Lexington: VAM for Rockbridge County was the smallest of the thirteen I-81 counties in Virginia in 1997. The largest manufacturing employer is Burlington Industries-Lee Carpets Division, which makes nylon carpeting in Glasgow. Buena Vista (pop. 6,349) is to the east of I-81; Lexington (pop. 6,867) is to the west. VAM data are unavailable for both communities. Washington & Lee University and VMI are the largest higher education institutions in this area.

Augusta County/Staunton & Waynesboro: Although Augusta County, Staunton, and Waynesboro constitute a non-metropolitan area, they collectively produced more than $1.1 billion in value added by manufacture in 1997. Augusta County produces snack cakes, shaving blades, disposable hospital supplies, vinyl siding, and copper fittings. One of the nine Hershey's Foods plants in the mainland U.S. is located in Stuarts Draft; it makes mostly peanut-based products. Staunton is located on I-81; it has no major factories. Best Buy opened a 701,000 square feet distribution center there in 1994. In 1997, Target Stores opened an $80 million, 1.6-million ft2 warehouse in Stuarts Draft. Waynesboro is located on I-64 about seven miles east of I-81; its factories produce organic fibers and plastics material and resins.

The Shenandoah Valley is widest in Augusta County. Consequently, Augusta ranked second among Virginia counties in 2002 for total value of agricultural products sold. It ranked sixth in the U.S. for number of turkeys (in 1997 it accounted for 2.1 percent of national turkey production) and first in Virginia for cattle and calves; dairy is an important industry.

Tourism is important in this area. Staunton was the hometown of President Woodrow Wilson; Waynesboro bills itself as the "gateway" to Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Rockingham County/Harrisonburg: Rockingham County has long been synonymous with poultry. In 2002, the county ranked second in the U.S. for number of turkeys and sixth for number of broilers and other meat-type chickens (it produced 4.5 percent of turkeys sold in the U.S. in 1997). Rockingham County's value of livestock, poultry, and their products ranked 17th in the nation in 2002. Rockingham also has a significant dairy industry; it ranked 44th in the country for milk and other dairy products from cows. Its orchards are also productive; in 1997 Rockingham ranked 70th for apple production and 74th for peach production.

The 1997 Census of Manufactures found that the value added by manufacture (VAM) in Rockingham County was $2.02 billion, the highest in Virginia's I-81 corridor. The only Virginia jurisdictions with higher VAM's were the cities of Richmond and Norfolk. Major factories include poultry processors, a pharmaceutical plant, two book printers, a motor vehicle parts manufacturer, a plastic bottle maker, a large furniture maker, and a producer of aluminum and plastic tubing. The Cargill Turkey Products (formerly Rocco) plant in Dayton is said to be the country's largest turkey-processing plant. In 2004, Pilgrim's Pride announced that it would close its Hinton processing plant. The Coors Brewing Company has packaged beer in Elkton since 1987; it is brewed elsewhere and shipped to Elkton for bottling. By 2007, the company will open a brewery there, its third in the U.S.

Marshalls operates an apparel distribution center in Bridgewater. Wal-Mart intends to open a distribution center in Mt. Crawford (Exit 240) in 2005. J.C. Penney bought the Wal-Mart site in the late 1980s for a distribution center, but suspended the project in 1990 and sold the land in 2002. [19]

Harrisonburg (pop. 40,468) is an independent city carved from territory inside of Rockingham County. Its largest employer is James Madison University, a public school. Its enrollment has nearly quadrupled since I-81 was completed in Virginia, from 4,000 in 1970 to 15,000 in the early 2000s.

Northern Shenandoah Valley: Shenandoah, Warren, and Frederick counties and the independent city of Winchester (pop. 23,585) are in the northern Shenandoah Valley. This region is becoming integrated with the Washington, D.C. area.

Facilities in these jurisdictions produced $1.48 billion in VAM in 1997; more than half was in Winchester. Major factories include poultry and other food processors, motor vehicle part producers, a lamp plant, a plastic dumpster manufacturer, a commercial printer, a copper tubing maker, and furniture and cabinet makers. Most large facilities were constructed after I-81 opened locally in the late 1960s. In the past decade, Kohl's and Home Depot have located distribution centers near Winchester to serve their stores in the Northeast U.S. market.

Agriculture is still a major industry. Shenandoah County ranked 57th in the country for turkey production in 2002. Frederick County ranked 12th in the nation for acreage in apples in 2002; in 1997 it ranked 46th in the U.S. for peach production and 81st in the nation for land in orchards.

Warren County is part of the Washington, D.C. MetSA. Merely 1.29 miles of I-81 are Warren County; I-66 is more important to the community. The Virginia Inland Port opened in Front Royal in 1989. Family Dollar built a retail merchandise distribution center in Front Royal in 1998; Sysco opened a food product distribution facility there in 2004. AmeriCold Logistics recently constructed a refrigerated warehouse in Strasburg, Shenandoah County.

Page County, east of Shenandoah County, was the top recipient of out-of-state trash in Virginia in 2002. Other Virginia counties that accept large quantities of out-of-state garbage are located outside of the Ridge & Valley region. [20]

3 Socioeconomic Trends in the I-81 Corridor

3.1 Population

Table 2 shows the population of the I-81 corridor in selected years from 1969 to 2002. With the exception of the I-77 overlap in Wythe County, I-81 was fully opened to traffic in 1971. The third data column shows the population in 1981, ten years later.

The highest population growth has usually been in the northern part of the corridor, in Frederick and Warren counties and in the City of Winchester. These jurisdictions have grown faster than Virginia as a whole and the U.S. In contrast, the populations of the counties at the southern end of the corridor and the City of Roanoke have grown slower than the state and nation. The net effect is a corridor growth rate that exceeds the U.S. rate in most years, but is slightly below Virginia rate.

The I-81 corridor has not grown as rapidly as the rest of Virginia since the highway was completed. Whereas one out of every seven Virginians lived in the corridor in 1971, the corridor accounted for just one-eighth of the commonwealth's population in 2002. Nevertheless, most of the non-metropolitan counties in the I-81 corridor have grown faster than the Virginia non-metropolitan average. Population growth in Shenandoah County has exceeded both the nationwide metro and non-metro rates since 1969.

Table 2: Population: 1969-2002

Counties + Independent Cities 1969 1971 1981 2002 Compounded Average Annual Growth Rate
1969-71 1971-81 1981-2002
Washington + Bristol 55,916 57,707 65,368 68,368 1.6% 1.3% 0.2%
Smyth* 31,509 32,323 33,423 32,825 1.3% 0.3% -0.1%
Wythe* 22,306 22,931 25,596 27,795 1.4% 1.1% 0.4%
Pulaski 29,608 30,567 35,335 35,016 1.6% 1.5% 0.0%
Montgomery + Radford 57,716 60,597 78,771 100,508 2.5% 2.7% 1.2%
Roanoke County + Salem 87,352 93,205 97,430 111,024 3.3% 0.4% 0.6%
Roanoke City 93,000 93,666 100,991 93,441 0.4% 0.8% -0.4%
Botetourt 18,205 18,547 23,428 31,126 0.9% 2.4% 1.4%
Rockbridge, Buena Vista +Lexington* 30,709 30,597 31,583 34,119 -0.2% 0.3% 0.4%
Augusta, Staunton + Waynesboro* 85,124 87,707 91,309 110,729 1.5% 0.4% 0.9%
Rockingham + Harrisonburg 62,017 65,099 78,483 110,117 2.5% 1.9% 1.6%
Shenandoah* 22,906 23,762 27,944 36,400 1.9% 1.6% 1.3%
Warren 15,304 16,249 21,442 33,072 3.0% 2.8% 2.1%
Frederick + Winchester 43,312 45,890 55,076 87,250 2.9% 1.8% 2.2%
VA I-81 Corridor 654,984 678,847 766,179 911,790 1.8% 1.2% 0.8%
Virginia 4,614,000 4,752,846 5,444,094 7,287,829 1.5% 1.4% 1.4%
United States 201,298,000 206,817,509 229,465,744 287,973,924 1.4% 1.0% 1.1%
Non-Metro Virginia 903,353 921,173 1,003,852 1,078,028 1.0% 0.9% 0.3%
Non-Metro U.S. 38,926,788 39,776,189 44,303,823 49,182,854 1.1% 1.1% 0.5%

* Indicates counties and independent cities that are classified as non-metropolitan by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in 2004.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

3.2 Employment

As seen in Table 3, total full-time and part-time employment in the I-81 corridor has grown at rates similar to Virginia and the U.S. since 1971. Employment plunged in many corridor counties between 1969 and 1971, especially in manufacturing in the southern part of the corridor; the Olin chemical plant, a major employer, closed in Smyth County circa 1970. Over a quarter million jobs have been created in the corridor since 1971. Since 1981, employment has grown at a faster pace in all non-metro corridor counties than in non-metro Virginia as a whole.

I-81 has increased labor mobility. For example, commuting from Botetourt County to Roanoke city has nearly quadrupled since I-81's completion, from 1437 commuters in 1970 to 5563 in 2000. Over the same interval, commuting increased five-fold from Shenandoah County to Frederick County/Winchester (from 411 to 2098) and six-fold from Warren County to Frederick County/Winchester (from 254 to 1572), from Montgomery County/Radford to Pulaski County (from 445 to 2845), and from Augusta County/Staunton/Waynesboro to Rockingham County/Harrisonburg (from 788 to 4939).

Table 3: Full-Time and Part-Time Employment: 1969-2000

Counties + Independent Cities 1969 1971 1981 2000 Compounded Average Annual Growth
1969-71 1971-81 1981-2000
Washington + Bristol 23,913 24,550 31,574 42,968 1.3% 2.5% 1.6%
Smyth* 14,605 13,526 15,135 19,210 -3.8% 1.1% 1.3%
Wythe* 9,136 9,116 11,309 14,551 -0.1% 2.2% 1.3%
Pulaski 11,646 11,596 15,132 19,508 -0.2% 2.7% 1.3%
Montgomery + Radford 31,220 28,753 37,297 55,432 -4.0% 2.6% 2.1%
Roanoke County + Salem 33,702 34,985 44,810 74,107 1.9% 2.5% 2.7%
Roanoke City 62,934 64,804 73,947 88,227 1.5% 1.3% 0.9%
Botetourt 4,795 4,881 6,416 12,567 0.9% 2.8% 3.6%
Rockbridge, Buena Vista + Lexington* 12,924 12,265 13,236 18,570 -2.6% 0.8% 1.8%
Rockingham + Harrisonburg 30,328 32,660 40,729 69,744 3.8% 2.2% 2.9%
Augusta, Staunton + Waynesboro* 41,707 40,415 47,156 61,957 -1.6% 1.6% 1.4%
Shenandoah* 10,768 11,019 13,092 19,743 1.2% 1.7% 2.2%
Warren 7,010 7,346 8,797 13,860 2.4% 1.8% 2.4%
Frederick + Winchester 22,692 24,100 30,403 57,905 3.1% 2.4% 3.4%
VA I-81 Corridor 317,380 320,016 389,033 568,349 0.4% 2.0% 2.0%
Virginia 2,147,852 2,196,371 2,820,157 4,407,324 1.1% 2.5% 2.4%
United States 91,057,200 91,586,400 115,304,000 166,758,800 0.3% 2.3% 2.0%
Non-Metro Virginia 377,357 379,397 442,598 529,347 0.3% 1.6% 0.9%
Non-Metro U.S. 15,994,931 16,170,795 19,502,994 25,495,489 0.5% 1.9% 1.4%

* Indicates counties and independent cities that are classified as non-metropolitan by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in 2004.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

3.3 Personal Income

Real per capita personal income has grown faster in the I-81 corridor than in the nation as a whole since the highway was completed in Virginia in 1971. On average, per capita income expanded by 2.31 percent annually in the corridor between 1971 and 1981, slightly less than the nationwide growth rate of 2.33 percent and much less than the statewide rate of 3.0 percent and non-metro statewide rate of 3.4 percent. From 1981 to 2002, per capita income increased more rapidly in the corridor than nationwide, but slightly slower than in Virginia as a whole. During those years, per capita income increased at a greater average rate than non-metro Virginia and non-metro U.S. in all non-metro corridor counties except Wythe.

Table 4: Real Per Capita Personal Income: 1969-2002

Counties +Independent Cities 1969 1971 1981 2002 Compounded Average Annual Growth Rate
1969-71 1971-81 1981-2002
Washington + Bristol $ 10,402 $ 10,924 $ 14,986 $ 23,536 2.5% 3.2% 2.2%
Smyth* $ 9,907 $ 9,792 $ 13,262 $ 20,127 -0.6% 3.1% 2.0%
Wythe* $ 10,010 $ 10,137 $ 14,561 $ 20,029 0.6% 3.7% 1.5%
Pulaski $ 11,990 $ 11,098 $ 13,665 $ 23,454 -3.8% 2.1% 2.6%
Montgomery + Radford $ 11,055 $ 10,764 $ 13,447 $ 19,716 -1.3% 2.3% 1.8%
Roanoke County + Salem $ 14,437 $ 14,307 $ 19,321 $ 31,820 -0.4% 3.0% 2.4%
Roanoke City $ 14,750 $ 15,479 $ 17,890 $ 26,137 2.4% 1.5% 1.8%
Botetourt $ 11,487 $ 12,244 $ 16,675 $ 30,438 3.2% 3.1% 2.9%
Rockbridge, Buena Vista +Lexington* $ 10,529 $ 10,666 $ 13,524 $ 22,608 0.7% 2.4% 2.5%
Augusta, Staunton + Waynesboro* $ 13,039 $ 12,933 $ 16,585 $ 24,829 -0.4% 2.5% 1.9%
Rockingham + Harrisonburg $ 12,045 $ 12,668 $ 14,594 $ 22,499 2.6% 1.4% 2.1%
Shenandoah* $ 11,253 $ 12,157 $ 15,941 $ 23,802 3.9% 2.7% 1.9%
Warren $ 13,083 $ 13,695 $ 17,040 $ 25,816 2.3% 2.2% 2.0%
Frederick + Winchester $ 12,599 $ 13,267 $ 15,621 $ 28,099 2.6% 1.6% 2.8%
VA I-81 Corridor $ 12,422 $ 12,649 $ 15,891 $ 24,920 0.9% 2.3% 2.2%
Virginia $ 14,072 $ 14,837 $ 19,900 $ 31,706 2.7% 3.0% 2.2%
United States $ 15,189 $ 15,747 $ 19,827 $ 29,881 1.8% 2.3% 2.0%
Non-Metro Virginia $ 10,287 $ 10,880 $ 15,205 $ 21,924 2.8% 3.4% 1.8%
Non-Metro U.S. $ 11,566 $ 12,204 $ 15,654 $ 22,587 2.7% 2.5% 1.8%

* Indicates counties and independent cities that are classified as non-metropolitan by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in 2004.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis (adjusted with National Implicit Price Deflators for Personal Consumption Expenditures)

3.4 Industry Mix

Table 5 shows non-farm and farm employment by industry in the I-81 corridor (sum of the thirteen I-81 counties and independent cities therein) in selected years from 1969 to 2000. The growth rate for total non-farm employment increased in the decade after the highway's completion. Since I-81 was completed, employment has expanded in all industry sectors for which aggregate level data are available, except on farms. Between 1971 and 2000, services employment nearly tripled and retail employment doubled.

Manufacturing employment also grew; with just one-eighth of Virginia's population, the I-81 corridor employs nearly one-quarter of the commonwealth's manufacturing workers. The 1997 Census of Manufactures demonstrates that the I-81 corridor is a major manufacturing region. Value added by manufacture (VAM) in the corridor's thirteen counties and seven independent cities (data for Buena Vista, Lexington, and Staunton were unavailable) totaled $9.59 billion, more than the $8.0 billion in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and $7.87 billion in the Norfolk metro area. The I-81 corridor accounted for at least 22 percent of Virginia's VAM that year.

Farm employment in the corridor has declined since 1969. That year it accounted for 19 percent of total farm and nonfarm employment in Botetourt County, 15 percent in Shenandoah County, and 14 percent in Rockingham County. By 2002, these figures had declined to 5, 6, and 4 percent respectively.

Table 5: Non-Farm and Farm Employment by Industry in the I-81 Corridor: 1969-2000

Industry Sector 1969 1971 1981 2000 Compounded Average Annual Growth
1969-71 1971-81 1981-2000
Ag. Services/Forestry/Fishing 1,764 1,700 2,074 NA -1.8% 2.0% NA
Construction 17,362 17,403 20,508 34,787 0.1% 1.7% 2.8%
Manufacturing 87,972 82,723 90,828 97,759 -3.0% 0.9% 0.4%
Transportation/Public Utilities NA NA NA NA NA NA NA
Wholesale Trade NA NA NA NA NA NA NA
Retail Trade 42,432 43,763 56,891 100,542 1.6% 2.7% 3.0%
Finance/Insurance/Real Estate NA NA NA NA NA NA NA
Services 52,311 55,236 73,061 143,003 2.8% 2.8% 3.6%
Government/Gov't Enterprises 41,415 43,142 55,338 75,384 2.1% 2.5% 1.6%
Total Nonfarm Employment 288,622 291,308 359,349 539,260 0.5% 2.1% 2.2%
Farm Employment 19,622 19,592 18,375 14,538 -0.1% -0.6% -1.2%
Farm As % of Total Farm & Nonfarm Employment 6.4% 6.3% 4.9% 2.6% -0.5% -2.6% -3.2%

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

Table 6 compares the corridor, state, and national industry mix derived from total nonfarm employment in selected years. Manufacturing accounts for a much greater share of employment in the I-81 corridor than in Virginia or the U.S. as a whole. The corridor's manufacturing strength pre-dates completion of I-81 in 1971; although manufacturing's share of total corridor employment declined from 1969 to 2000, the sector accounted for 18.1 percent of corridor employment in 2000, nearly twice the statewide share. Manufacturing employment expanded more rapidly in the corridor (average annual increase of 0.58 percent) than statewide (0.30 percent) between 1971 and 2000. Manufacturing has been a more robust industry in the corridor than in other locales; whereas manufacturing employment peaked nationwide in 1979 and statewide in 1987, it reached its apex in the corridor in 1999.

The share of total nonfarm employment in the services sector increased in the corridor between 1969 and 2000, but the gain was not as big as in Virginia or the nation as a whole. Government's share of employment in the corridor matched the national share by 2000; it lagged that nation by a 3.9 percentage points in 1969. Virginia's share of employment due to government is unusually high due to federal agency employment in the Washington, D.C. area and military employment, especially in the D.C. suburbs and the Norfolk area.

Retail trade has increased its share of corridor employment. In 1969, retail's share of total nonfarm employment in the corridor exceeded the Virginia figure, but lagged the nation. By 2000, the corridor had surpassed the national share. One explanation may be that retailers in the corridor have expanded their market radii, requiring more employees to serve the new customers.

Table 6: Industry Sectors As Percent of Total Nonfarm Employment: 1969-2000

Industry Sector 1969 1981 2000
Corridor Virginia U.S. Corridor Virginia U.S. Corridor Virginia U.S.
Ag. Services/Forestry/Fishing 0.6% 0.5% 0.6% 0.6% 0.7% 0.8% NA 1.1% 1.3%
Mining NA 0.7% 0.8% NA 0.9% 1.3% NA 0.3% 0.5%
Construction 6.0% 5.7% 5.1% 5.7% 5.5% 5.0% 6.5% 6.4% 5.8%
Manufacturing 30.5% 18.3% 23.6% 25.3% 15.4% 18.5% 18.1% 9.2% 11.7%
Transportation/Public Utilities NA 5.0% 5.5% NA 4.8% 5.1% NA 4.9% 5.0%
Wholesale Trade NA 3.2% 4.7% NA 4.1% 5.2% NA 3.7% 4.6%
Retail Trade 14.7% 13.8% 15.4% 15.8% 15.0% 16.2% 18.6% 16.3% 16.6%
Finance/Insurance/Real Estate NA 5.8% 6.8% NA 7.4% 7.9% NA 7.2% 8.1%
Services 18.1% 17.3% 19.2% 20.3% 21.5% 23.1% 26.5% 32.3% 32.4%
Government/Gov't Enterprises 14.3% 29.6% 18.2% 15.4% 24.7% 16.7% 14.0% 18.6% 14.0%
Total Nonfarm Employment 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

3.5 Business Establishments

The numbers of business establishments in each I-81 corridor county, Virginia, and the U.S. are presented in Table 7. Data for the independent cities have been combined with the counties that surround them. The Census Bureau defines an "establishment" as "a single physical location at which business is conducted or services or industrial operations are performed." It is not necessarily identical with a company or enterprise, which may consist of one or more establishments. Before 1974, the Census Bureau used "reporting units" as the unit of measurement. The definition of "establishment" has changed since it was first adopted in 1974, most significantly in 1983.

Although reporting unit and establishment data are not directly comparable from year-to-year, they can be used to compare relative levels of economic activity in various communities because the definitional changes were uniformly implemented nationwide. The index section of Table 7 shows that Virginia's I-81 corridor counties have gained reporting units/business establishments at a faster rate than the U.S. as a whole since the highway was completed in 1971. However, the corridor counties lagged statewide growth. By this measure, Botetourt County gained establishments at the fastest rate in the corridor; Pulaski County has exhibited the slowest growth.

Table 7 Business Establishments: 1964-2001

Counties + Independent Cities Reporting Units* Establishments* Index (1971=100.0)
1964 1971 1981 1991 2001 1964 1971 1981 1991 2001
Washington + Bristol 916 916 1,217 1,482 1,863 100.0 100.0 132.9 161.8 203.4
Smyth** 430 418 495 628 669 102.9 100.0 118.4 150.2 160.0
Wythe** 336 318 402 566 716 105.7 100.0 126.4 178.0 225.2
Pulaski 442 440 456 576 649 100.5 100.0 103.6 130.9 147.5
Montgomery + Radford 723 803 1,201 1,816 2,147 90.0 100.0 149.6 226.2 267.4
Roanoke County, City + Salem 3,262 3,435 4,589 6,188 6,575 95.0 100.0 133.6 180.1 191.4
Botetourt 185 194 267 395 599 95.4 100.0 137.6 203.6 308.8
Rockbridge, Buena Vista + Lexington** 489 489 561 877 860 100.0 100.0 114.7 179.3 175.9
Augusta, Staunton + Waynesboro** 1,295 1,340 1,673 2,375 2,677 96.6 100.0 124.9 177.2 199.8
Rockingham + Harrisonburg 1,019 1,081 1,503 2,329 2,738 94.3 100.0 139.0 215.4 253.3
Shenandoah** 436 450 567 764 887 96.9 100.0 126.0 169.8 197.1
Warren 324 316 411 616 759 102.5 100.0 130.1 194.9 240.2
Frederick + Winchester 943 977 1,294 2,064 2,452 96.5 100.0 132.4 211.3 251.0
VA I-81 Corridor 10,800 11,177 14,636 20,676 23,591 96.6 100.0 130.9 185.0 211.1
Virginia 64,031 69,200 97,069 149,369 176,532 92.5 100.0 140.3 215.9 255.1
United States 3,457,722 3,511,167 4,586,510 6,200,650 7,095,302 98.5 100.0 130.6 176.6 202.1

*Data are not comparable across all years because of definitional changes. In 1974, the Census Bureau changed from a "reporting unit" concept to establishment-based data. The definition of "active" establishments changed in 1983.

** Indicates counties and independent cities that are classified as non-metropolitan by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in 2004.

Source: Bureau of the Census, County Business Patterns.

3.6 Property Value Changes

Median home values are a measure of property values. Table 8 compares median values of owner-occupied non-condominium housing units in the I-81 counties, Virginia, and the U.S. from 1980 to 2000. In 1980, only Roanoke County and Harrisonburg exceeded the Virginia and national median home values. In 1990, they were joined by Frederick County and Winchester as jurisdictions that exceeded the national median value. In 2000, Harrisonburg and Lexington were the only I-81 communities where median home values exceeded the national median. Augusta County is the only corridor jurisdiction that surpassed the nationwide appreciation rates in both the 1980s and '90s. Home appreciation in the northern part of the corridor exceeded the state and national rates in the 1980s (possibly due to the completion of I-66 in 1982), but fell below them in the '90s.

Table 8 Median Value of Specified Owner-Occupied Non-condominium Housing Units: 1980-2000

Location 1980 1990 2000 Compounded Average Annual Growth Rate
1980-90 1990-2000
Bristol City $33,000 $48,400 $71,400 3.9% 4.0%
Washington Co. $36,100 $52,500 $90,400 3.8% 5.6%
Smyth Co.* $29,300 $42,600 $67,900 3.8% 4.8%
Wythe Co.* $30,700 $48,900 $77,300 4.8% 4.7%
Pulaski Co. $32,400 $51,400 $80,000 4.7% 4.5%
Radford City $37,300 $64,500 $95,100 5.6% 4.0%
Montgomery Co. $43,200 $71,700 $114,600 5.2% 4.8%
Roanoke Co. $49,600 $80,500 $118,100 5.0% 3.9%
Salem City $40,700 $69,100 $104,200 5.4% 4.2%
Roanoke City $32,900 $54,000 $80,300 5.1% 4.0%
Botetourt Co. $43,300 $73,400 $130,500 5.4% 5.9%
Rockbridge Co.* $33,600 $54,700 $92,400 5.0% 5.4%
Lexington City* $45,500 $74,500 $131,900 5.1% 5.9%
Buena Vista City* $28,600 $43,300 $72,900 4.2% 5.3%
Augusta Co.* $40,600 $70,500 $110,900 5.7% 4.6%
Staunton City* $40,100 $62,700 $87,500 4.6% 3.4%
Waynesboro City* $39,700 $68,100 $89,300 5.5% 2.7%
Rockingham Co. $41,100 $71,800 $107,700 5.7% 4.1%
Harrisonburg City $54,000 $89,300 $122,700 5.2% 3.2%
Shenandoah Co.* $38,600 $73,600 $99,400 6.7% 3.1%
Warren Co. $40,600 $85,100 $108,800 7.7% 2.5%
Frederick Co. $45,200 $90,100 $118,300 7.1% 2.8%
Winchester City $43,800 $89,100 $108,900 7.4% 2.0%
Virginia $48,100 $91,000 $125,400 6.6% 3.3%
United States $47,300 $79,100 $119,600 5.3% 4.2%

Data for jurisdictions that exceeded the national median are in bold typeface.

* Indicates counties and independent cities that are classified as non-metropolitan by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in 2004.

Source: Bureau of the Census (current dollars)

4 I-81: Economic Development Trends

4.1 Distribution Centers

Distribution is increasingly becoming an important industry in the I-81 corridor, especially in the Shenandoah and Roanoke valleys. Virginia is a "right to work" state. It is considered to have lower labor costs and management-friendly employment laws in comparison with nearby states in the Northeast and Midwest. The combination of central location and employer-favored labor conditions is thought to have spurred development of distribution centers in the northern portion of Virginia's I-81 corridor since the early 1990s. [21]

The Virginia Port Authority operates an "inland port" in Fort Royal on I-66 near its junction with I-81. Containers are imported at marine terminals in the Hampton Roads area and transported via the Norfolk Southern Railroad to the Virginia Inland Port, from which they are trucked to distribution centers in the I-81/Shenandoah Valley and to destinations in Pennsylvania and in the Ohio River Valley.

The Roanoke Valley is also the site of smaller distribution centers, especially for catalog sales and other direct-to-customer retail operations [22] . Large plots of flat land are scarcer in the Roanoke area than in the Shenandoah Valley; consequently, Roanoke economic development officials prefer value-added industrial operations to large distribution facilities for national retailers because factories generally provide better jobs and higher tax revenues [23] . The nation's largest food-service marketing and distribution companies have also sited facilities in the Shenandoah Valley [24] .

Other states have experienced the phenomenal increase in distribution centers along their segments of I-81. Large facilities have been constructed around Martinsburg, W.V., Hagerstown, Md., Chambersburg and Harrisburg, Pa. and in other I-81 communities [25] .

4.2 Decline of Traditional Industries

Industries that were once economic mainstays in the I-81 corridor have declined in recent years. Most of the textile and apparel plants within a 60-mile radius of Roanoke have closed. Augusta Mills has shuttered its sheets and pillowcases factory in Elkton, Rockingham County. In 2002, VF Jeans wear announced closure of its Wrangler jeans plant in Woodstock, Shenandoah County and sewing support center in Luray, Page County. Pilgrim's Pride is selling or closing its turkey processing plant in Hinton (Rockingham County). The well-known apple industry centered on Winchester is uprooting orchards due to foreign competition, especially from China, and to some extent to residential development. [26]

4.3 Motor Vehicle Parts

Automobile manufacturing was centered in the Midwest and Northeast from the industry's infancy in the early 20th century until the 1980s. Since the early 1980s, numerous motor vehicle assembly plants have been constructed in the Southeast. As the U.S. motor vehicle manufacturing industry has expanded into the South, an increasing number of automobile component manufacturers have opened facilities along Virginia's I-81 corridor.

Motor vehicle parts are manufactured at factories throughout the I-81 corridor. These facilities include Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 suppliers to the industry (Tier 1 manufacturers supply parts for the final assembly operation. Tier 2 businesses produce components or sub-assemblies for Tier 1 manufacturers, etc.) [27]

Volvo/Mack builds heavy-duty trucks at its 1.6 million square feet plant in Pulaski County, the only motor vehicle assembly facility along Virginia's section of I-81. Other assembly facilities are unlikely to locate in the corridor because of the dearth of large flat building sites.

4.4 Colleges & Universities

Numerous institutions of higher education are concentrated in Virginia's I-81 corridor. Schools in the corridor include Virginia Tech, James Madison University, Washington & Lee University, and Shenandoah University. Their presence has affected economic development in two major ways. First, enrollment has rapidly expanded at some schools, causing an economic multiplier effect in the retail and services sectors in their communities. Second, universities have served as catalysts for new businesses. For example, Blacksburg Industrial Park and Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg are home to many businesses related to Virginia Tech. The Carilion Biomedical Institute in Roanoke is a spin-off of the local Carilion Health System, Virginia Tech, and the University of Virginia.

5I-81 Summary

Interstate 81 is an important link between the Northeast and Southeast regions of the United States. Native Americans and settlers utilized the corridor as a migratory and trade route. It continues to serve a vital function today as the less-congested "back route" to the population centers and industrial centers of the Northeast. Virginia's I-81 corridor has attracted and retained an industrial base that is disproportionately large for an area that is mostly rural. Although only one automobile assembly plant is located in Virginia (the Volvo heavy truck plant), the I-81 corridor has a significant cluster of parts manufacturers. I-81 communities in West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania have also attracted new factories and distribution centers. Economic development officials in the Shenandoah Valley and these states confer regularly to identify and discuss trends. The Virginia Department of Transportation is formulating capacity expansion plans for I-81 that may include truck-only lanes and/or conversion into a toll road. These changes may alter development patterns on this ages-old transportation route.

[1] This report was prepared by Jack Faucett Associates, Inc. of Bethesda, Md. under contract with the Federal Highway Administration (Martin Weiss, principal official for the Economic Development Highway Initiative). Jason Bezis and Kristin Noyes were the primary authors, with assistance from Justine Lam, Paul Nguyen, and Jessica Bonardi. The consultant team of JFA acknowledges the active participation and assistance of local development districts and other local and regional agencies for completion of this case study. Specific individuals from these entities are footnoted throughout this document.

[2] The U.S. Office of Management and Budget defines metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas based on Census Bureau data. Each metropolitan statistical area (MetSA) must have at least one urbanized area of 50,000 or more inhabitants. Each micropolitan statistical area (MicSA) must have at least one urban cluster of at least 10,000 but less than 50,000 population. The county (or counties) in which at least 50 percent of the population resides within urban areas of 10,000 or more population, or that contain at least 5,000 people residing within a single urban area of 10,000 or more population, is identified as a "central county" (counties). Additional "outlying counties" are included in the MetSA or MicSA if they meet specified requirements of commuting to or from the central counties.

[3] See Virginia Department of Transportation, A History of Roads in Virginia (2002).

[4] Edith-Anne Pendergraft Duncan, "Design of Early Ordinaries and Taverns in Montgomery County, Virginia from 1773 to 1823," Master of Science thesis, Virginia Polytechnic University, 2000.

[5] Edith-Anne Pendergraft Duncan, "Design of Early Ordinaries and Taverns in Montgomery County, Virginia from 1773 to 1823," Master of Science thesis, Virginia Polytechnic University, 2000.

[6] The Shenandoah Valley Railroad was built between Hagerstown, Md. and Big Lick (now Roanoke) in the 1870s and '80s. Roanoke grew into one of Virginia's major cities while it was a hub of the Norfolk & Western Railway (now the Norfolk Southern). Today Norfolk Southern operates a Shenandoah Valley line.

[7] Whereas most traffic counts data before the mid-1990s were merely raw traffic counts, recent data are actual annual averages that are adjusted for season and day-of-week. The count locations were selected to illustrate the variation in traffic volume throughout the 325-mile corridor.

[8] The Appalachians are known locally as the Shenandoah Mountains from Winchester to Staunton, the Allegheny Mountains from Staunton to Roanoke, Brush Mountain in the vicinity of Blacksburg and Christiansburg, and Walker Mountain from Wytheville to Bristol.

[9] The Blue Ridge, technically the easternmost ridge of the southern Appalachian mountain range, is a nationally known tourist destination. Skyline Drive traverses the top of the Blue Ridge through Shenandoah National Park; its name becomes the Blue Ridge Parkway in southwestern Virginia. Although Skyline Drive/Blue Ridge Parkway parallels I-81 through most of the state, it is not considered a competing route for through traffic because it is windy and narrow.

[10] Scott M. Kozel, "Interstate 77 in Virginia," Roads to the Future

[11] It is testing pavement types and Intelligent Transportation Systems concepts, technologies, and products.

[12] The Commonwealth Transportation Board approved the location of I-73 at its June 21, 2001 meeting.

[13] Economic Development Research Group (for City of Roanoke, Office of Economic Development), Economic Impact of I-73 Alignments on the City of Roanoke (2000). See

[14] Carlos Santos, "Charlottesville Won and Lynchburg Lost: Routing of I-64 Was Major Tussle," Richmond Times-Dispatch, June 13, 1999, p. C6.

[15] The last rural section of I-66 was finished in Fauquier County in 1981. I-66 was completed in 1982 when the final ten miles opened between the Capital Beltway and Washington.

[16] For a discussion of the economic development reverberations of the opening of the new 9.1-mile segment of I-26 from Mars Hill, N.C. to the Tennessee- North Carolina line, see Harrison Metzger, "Crowd joins Easley in dedicating new section of I-26 in Madison County," Hendersonville (N.C.) Times-News, April 6, 2003. Like counties along I-81 in Virginia, Henderson County, N.C. hopes to attract distribution centers and auto parts manufacturers.

[17] Many of the east-west lines connect the coalfields of West Virginia with export terminals in the Norfolk/Hampton Roads area. Norfolk Southern operates a line from West Virginia through Giles, Montgomery, and Roanoke counties en route to the Richmond and Norfolk areas; it crosses I-81 near Elliston in Montgomery County. CSX enters from West Virginia parallel to I-64 in Alleghany County; coal export trains head to the ocean terminal in Newport News.

[18] Telephone interview with Phil Sparks, executive director, Roanoke Valley Economic Development Partnership, August 2004. See Duncan Adams, "Mechatronics isn't toy, but it will play vital role," Roanoke Times, September 22, 2004.

[19] Jack Lyne, "Wal-Mart Picks NW Virginia for 1,000-Worker Mid-Atlantic Distribution Center," Site Selection, April 7, 2003.

[20] Wendy Pagonis, "Page County Is King Of Out-Of-State Trash," Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, Va.), October 25, 2003.

[21] Telephone interview with Ken Jones, Winchester-Frederick County Economic Development Commission, August 11, 2004.

[22] Hanover Direct (775,000 square feet) and Orvis, Inc. (300,000 ft2) operate order fulfillment centers at the Roanoke Centre for Industry and Technology. The Home Shopping Network (HSN) fulfillment center in Roanoke sends tens of thousands of packages per day. HSN closed its Salem, Va. center in 2004, claiming lack of space for expansion. Most of the Salem operation was transferred to a 1 million square feet center in Piney Flats, Tenn.

[23] The table below, effectively table 9 lists the distribution centers operated by major retail chains in the Shenandoah Valley. All are located near I-81 with the exception of the facility in Front Royal, which is sited near I-66. The Target distribution center is said to be the second-largest building in Virginia after the Pentagon, but the Volvo/Mack truck assembly plant in Pulaski County is of a similar size. Although most commerce with these operations is carried by truck, some distribution centers also ship and receive by rail.

Table 9 Distribution Centers Operated by Major Retailers in the Shenandoah Valley

Community Retailer Square Feet Opened
Winchester Home Depot 768,000 2004
Winchester Kohl's 420,000 1997
Front Royal Family Dollar 907,000 1998
Staunton Best Buy 701,000 1994
Mt. Jackson Wal-Mart 1,200,000 2005
Bridgewater Marshalls 672,000 NA
Stuarts Draft Target 1,600,000 1997

[24] Sysco will open its 854,000 ft2 Baugh Northeast Co-op Redistribution Center in Front Royal near I-66 in early 2005; it is the company's prototype mega-warehouse for supply of subsidiaries within zones of the country. The Front Royal center will serve fourteen Sysco operating companies in the Northeast (including the Harrisonburg/Mt. Crawford facility). Circa 2000, AmeriCold Logistics opened a 245,000 square feet (7.5 million cubic feet) distribution facility for refrigerated foodstuffs in Strasburg. U.S. Foodservice operates a distribution center in Roanoke.

[25] The I-81 corridor between Harrisburg, Pa. and Harrisonburg, Va. is increasingly referred to as the "quad state region." Economic development officials in the four states share information about I-81 related development through an informal "quad state" regional economic development forum.

[26] Greg Edwards, "Uprooting Virginia's Apple Industry: Foreign Competition, Weather Causing Some Apple Growers to Get Out," The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.), June 1, 2004.

[27] Yokohama makes tires in Salem. BBA Friction Materials produces brake linings in Pulaski County. Eagle-Picher Industries manufactures automotive gaskets in Montgomery County. In Botetourt County, Dynax America makes clutch plates and Koyo Steering Systems produces steering and suspension parts. Lear Operations makes components in Shenandoah County and in the Winchester area. Also in the Winchester area, PolyOne produces vinyl panels and Federal Mogul makes parts and accessories. Tenneco Automotive manufactures parts in Harrisonburg. Advance Auto Parts, the nation's second-largest retailer of replacement components, is based in Roanoke, where it operates a 442,000 square feet distribution center.

Updated: 05/04/2012
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