Above: Former Virginia Delegate Joe Johnson was among several dozen Southwest Virginians at the VDOT hearing Monday afternoon.
Virginia transportation officials have identified more than $4.1 billion in improvements needed to solve the myriad traffic problems along Interstate 81’s 325 miles in the Commonwealth. It can only identify $2 billion in possible funding, and part of that comes from proposed tolls along the highway. VDOT officials shared that unpopular news Monday afternoon at a public hearing at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon. “I-81 carries about 11.7 million trucks a year,” said Shannon Valentine, state secretary of transportation. “It carries $312 billion worth of cargo and goods. Forty-two percent of all Interstate truck traffic goes down I-81. It is an incredible lifeline and economic engine in this part of Virginia.”
The plan is still in the draft stage, but it will be presented to the Commonwealth Transportation Board at its Oct. 29 meeting, and a final plan is scheduled to be considered in December before being taken to the General Assembly.
Most Virginia Interstates have traffic problems that arise from significant traffic volumes at peak times, generally during rush hours. I-81 is different in that its longest delays come from irregular incidents, such as auto accidents and disabled vehicles. As often as 30 times a year, those slowdowns can exceed six hours each.
The plan to address such incidents includes a greater number of cameras and possibly hiring contract labor to clear accident scenes sooner and faster.
In addition to the 81 corridor discussions, VDOT officials heard from Buchanan County residents asking for full funding for the Coalfields Expressway, which has been in the works for more than a quarter century.