VDOT working with construction contractors to decrease collisions along I-81 work zones

Published: Oct. 24, 2022 at 6:39 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - The Virginia Department of Transportation is working with a construction contractor along I-81 between exits 137 and 141 to decrease the number of crashes, which have led to traffic backups along the highway stretch.

Contractor crews are starting to put out more messages and warning signs at highway entrances. Workers are also adding more reflective barrels lined up along the highway.

VDOT officials hope these measures will decrease the number of crashes in the area.

The number of crashes along the four-mile construction zone on I-81 hasn’t significantly increased from last year with no construction zone. From January to October 2021, there were 96 crashes between exit 137 and 141. During the same time period in 2022, there have been 99 crashes.

But, a spokesperson with VDOT explained the crashes seem to be more visible with the longer traffic delays.

“People are more aware of the crashes that are occurring in the worksite and particularly with some of the delays that drivers have experienced in the traffic queues clearing the worksite,” Jason Bond said.

The delays, sometimes lasting hours, are prompting VDOT to work with the construction contractor.

“We [VDOT and the contractor] are looking at installing a system with flashing beacons on the truck entering highway signs at exit 140,” Bond said. “We’re also looking at putting some lighting on the barricade walls.”

With both highway shoulders closed, Bond explained how speeding is the main issue in the work zones.

“Exceeding the posted speed limit appears to be a contributing factor for many of the crashes that have occurred in the work zone,” Bond said. “We are coordinating with Virginia State Police to explore some enhanced enforcement options.”

The Virginia State Highway Patrol explained in an email how enforcement may be difficult with limited road space.

“The Troopers will handle enforcement when they observe a violation in the work zone, and will respond to crashes as needed,” Sergeant Richard Garletts said. “Work zones always present difficulties with enforcement, due to the restricted space.”

The project is set to be completed by 2026.

“Work zone crashes are increasing at an alarming rate, so it’s very important that people take work zones very seriously,” Bond said. “Slow down, watch for distractions.”

The construction project is part of a $2 billion improvement program along I-81. The next part of the project is widening the highway near exit 143 and 150 going into Botetourt County.

The public hearing for that construction will happen within the next year.

A previous version of this story stated VDOT crews were implementing the changes with construction contractors. It has since been updated for clarity.