Hate driving on I-81? Now's your chance to speak up

By Erin Brookshier - Virginia Today Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - Big changes are coming to one of Southwest Virginia’s busiest interstates as an Interstate 81 improvement study gets underway. 

In Virginia, I-81 stretches more than 325 miles long, and for many people in our area, the highway is unavoidable and often the quickest way to get where they’re going. 

While I-81 is often a part of our daily commute, it also accounts for about 40 percent of the state's tractor-trailer traffic, making it a very busy highway to travel on as well. 

Now, highway planners are focused on some of the interstate’s biggest problems in an effort to meet state lawmakers’ goals of putting an improvement plan in place within the year. 

Thursday's meeting is a chance for people in the community to bring their own feedback, describe the problems they’re seeing and some of the regions of I-81 where they see the biggest delays. 

“It is a nightmare,” says Amy Jessee, who lives in Roanoke. “I used to drive it to Christiansburg every day for a year and just prayed for my life every time I went up there.”

About 42 percent of traffic on I-81 is made up of tractor trailers, or about 11.7 million trucks per year. 

“This is a very important meeting, it’s a fresh look at the Interstate 81 cooridor,” says VDOT spokesperson Jason Bond. “We really want folks to come out so we can make sure the data we have really does correspond to what people experience on Interstate 81.”

Bond says another factor that separates I-81 from other highways across the state is the reason for the delays. 

“There’s a significant amount of delays that occur from incidents where on other interstates in Virginia experience delays from congestion, daily volume, traffic,” he says. “On Interstate 81 we see a lot of congestion specifically from accidents.”

The main cause for more than half of delays on I-81 are those incidents like crashes, while incidents only account for about 16 percent of delays on other interstates in Virginia. Over the past five years, there have been more than 11,000 crashes on Interstate 81, with 30 of those crashes each year taking more than six hours to clear. 

The state plans to present its findings to the 2019 General Assembly in order to receive funding moving forward with the improvements.  

The meeting will take place at the Holiday Inn at Valley View in Roanoke from 4 to 7 p.m. 

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