Dangers of I-81

A portion of I-81. Photo Credit: Linda Kil

Linda Kil, Reporter

I-81, one of the most frequently traveled interstates in Virginia, is also getting increasingly dangerous as more and more people travel on it.

The rate of incidents that are occurring on I-81 have increased 21% from FY 2013 to FY 2017. These incidents have an average duration of 66 minutes and the amount of accidents that have exceeded 4 hours in those five years are 107.

To counteract the amount of incidents and improve safety, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has implemented low-cost safety improvements and a series of operational improvements.

“Between mile markers 166 and 171, we’ve done a couple of things to improve safety like implement overlays on pavements to increase friction, straighten out a couple of curves and put in those flashing chevrons,” says Jason Bond, VDOT’s Western Virginia Media Contact.

These series of improvements have decreased crash rates by 55% in the northbound lane and 18% in the southbound lane.

More improvements are on the way in Spring 2020. VDOT will be widening the shoulders, applying more treatments and overlays to increase traction, remove the exit ramp at 167, and add and enhance pavement markings.

These improvements are part of a $8.1 million dollar project.

Recent crash data will be analyzed to see what else can be added to the project and other potential areas of improvement.

These improvements are a result of a safety study on the entirety of I-81 in 2018 with VDOT, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, The Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation. This safety study identified $2 billion worth of project and improvements for the interstate.

The study caused two bills to be introduced to the General Assembly concerning the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam also made amendments to these bills to include a dedicated funding source for the projects that were identified as priority improvements.

More updates on I-81 and projects that are happening on the interstate can be found here.