I-81 update  

Status Report: I-81 Studies

VDOT initiated the I-81 studies to determine the best roadway-widening and improvement options needed to ease traffic flow along the Virginia section of I-81. Seven consulting firms are conducting 10 separate studies. Each study includes land surveys, environmental and historical studies, and traffic analyses.

Two citizen information meetings will be held in each study area to discuss improvement options. Meeting time frames listed are estimates. To find out more specific meeting information:

  • Watch for public meeting notices in your local newspaper.
  • Check this Website.

Studies and projects from Bristol to Roanoke, map and descriptions

Studies and projects from Roanoke to Winchester, map and descriptions

 I-81 - #9 Shenandoah County Second Meeting:

September 10, 1998 from 4 - 7 p.m.
Woodstock Armory
451 Hoover Road
Woodstock, Virginia

I-81 improvements estimated timeline

1997 -- All 10 widening studies under way

1997-98 -- Two citizen information meetings held in each study area

mid-1998 -- Widening construction begins in Bristol area;
construction begins on Christiansburg area interchange

late 1998 -- All studies completed; best widening options selected

early 1999 -- Study results reviewed by Commonwealth Transportation Board;
preliminary construction priorities set

1999-2020 -- Ongoing construction

New Era of Construction Begins

Two construction projects along Interstate 81 are under way in two urban areas: Bristol and Christiansburg. Although these two construction projects were not part of the current I-81 widening studies, they demonstrate the need to upgrade the interstate to accommodate growth and increasing traffic.

In the Bristol area, I-81 is being widened from four to six lanes between Exit 74 in Tennessee to just north of Exit 7 in Virginia. As part of the $69 million construction project, the Gate City Highway interchange at Exit 1 will be reconstructed, and the Route 11 (Lee Highway) interchange at Exit 5 will be modified.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held April 8 in Bristol to commemorate the new era of construction on I-81. Local officials and members of Virginia's Commonwealth Transportation Board planted a dogwood, the state tree, at Virginia's Welcome Center near the Virginia-Tennessee border to signify the start of the first major construction projects on the more than 30-year-old interstate.

In the Christiansburg area, work began in March on a $62.5 million project to build a new I-81 interchange at Falling Branch. The interchange will extend the Route 460 Christiansburg Bypass to I-81 and open land just east of the interstate to economic development. Montgomery County plans a new industrial park in this area. The project also includes widening I-81 to six lanes near Exit 118 and adding collector-distributor lanes parallel to the interstate for smoother traffic flow.

Both projects are expected to be completed in fall 2000.

 I-81 Profile

Vital statistics:

  • Extends from Dandridge, Tennessee to the U.S./Canada border
  • In Virginia, 325 miles long - longest interstate in Virginia
  • 30 years old; 90 interchanges
  • Two lanes each direction, except for three lanes each way near Wytheville
  • Rolling terrain with view of Appalachian mountain range throughout Virginia
  • Speed limit 65 mph; metro Bristol, 55 mph
  • 20,000 to 50,000 vehicles per day travel the interstate; in last 20 years, traffic has more than doubled, and in urban areas, tripled.
  • 19 to 40 percent truck traffic; designed to carry only 15 percent trucks

Distinguishing characteristics:

  • Voted one of ten most scenic interstates in the U.S. and the only one in the Southeast by American Automobile Association
  • Near I-81: 11 state parks, 21 state recreational areas, two national forests, Blue Ridge Parkway, Appalachian Trail
  • Corridor has 48 historic sites nearby, mostly battlefields and Civil War sites
  • 29 colleges and universities nearby, representing about 30 percent of state's college enrollment
  • In Virginia, I-81 travels through 21 cities and towns and 32 counties with a total population of 1.2 million

Safety issues:

  • Work zone accidents have been steadily increasing for the last five years; a total of 68 accidents occurred between 1991 and 1994
  • Top two causes of work zone accidents: "driver inattention" and "exceeding safe speed limit"
  • 35 percent of I-81 fatal accidents involved a truck

Sources: Virginia Department of Transportation, Virginia Tech Center for Transportation Research

Study Reveals Truck Driver Concerns

Because of the increasing volume of large truck traffic on I-81, VDOT conducted a study to identify truck drivers' concerns. More than 1,300 drivers were interviewed at commercial truck stops and rest areas along I-81 throughout Virginia. Here are some of the study's findings:

Of the 20,000 to 50,000 vehicles per day that travel I-81, somewhere between 19% and 40% are trucks, depending on the segment. The 30-year-old I-81 was designed to accommodate only 15% truck traffic. Truck traffic is expected to continue growing as businesses increase their reliance upon trucks to transport goods.

The majority of truck traffic enters and leaves I-81 at I-40 in Tennessee and at I-77 in Fort Chiswell. Household goods, general freight, food and construction materials are among the most frequent types of cargo transported by trucks on I-81.

Truck drivers indicated that the top four most difficult interchanges to navigate are Exit 150 at Route 220 in Troutville, Exit 72 at I-77 North in Wytheville, Exit 80 at I-77 South in Fort Chiswell, and Exit 243 at Route 11 in Harrisonburg. These four interchanges have tight curves.

Seventy-four percent of truck drivers interviewed in the study felt additional parking is needed along I-81. Most notably, additional parking was most requested at Exit 150 (Troutville) and Exit 205 (Raphine). The majority of truck drivers felt that additional rest areas were most needed between Roanoke and Staunton.

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Page last modified: Feb. 28, 2014