I-81: “Spectacular and Deadly”

Brent Finnegan -- August 2nd, 2009

The Washington Post featured a story this weekend about some of the more nightmarish aspects of Interstate 81. The highway has the highest truck-to-car ratio in the state, 81 wrecks have a fatality rate twice that of I-95, and the editor of the Lexington News-Gazette said their are so many wrecks, they don’t even bother covering most of them. The story touches on the rail and expansion proposals familiar to Valley residents, but it’s all just talk:

“The fact is, nothing is going to happen because there is no revenue,” said Fred Altizer Jr., I-81 program manager for Virginia’s Transportation Department.

11 Responses to “I-81: “Spectacular and Deadly””

  1. Adam Sharp says:

    The accidents featured in the WaPo story occurred at my primary exit (296) or within 6 miles of it. It’s getting to the point that I check VDOT’s site before leaving for work or home just to make sure I don’t sit needlessly.

    I admit I’m not afraid of trucks. My uncle is a truck driver, and I like to think I can anticipate how they drive and react to conditions. I also tend to believe the focus should be on the drivers with the least amount of training and certification: you and me.

    That said, I’ll be the first to wholeheartedly support a rail solution to take care of through traffic (Winchester to Bristol). If we can make the cost to ride cheaper than the cost of the diesel to drive, I think companies and drivers would sign up quickly.

    Then all we’d need to do is take campers off the interstate and we’ll be OK.

  2. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell released a transportation plan that would probably have no real impact on the I-81 problem. Here’s a section that deals specifically with the road:

    “I-81 can often be a dangerous road for passenger cars due to the high volume of trucks on the interstate. As Governor, Bob McDonnell will explore ways to relieve congestion on I-81, with minimal effect to the natural beauty and resources in the region, and to get some trucks off the road. Legislation passed in 2008 prohibits a private entity from imposing tolls or user fees under the Public-Private Transportation Act on any existing rural segment of Interstate Route 81 without the prior approval of the General Assembly. As Governor, Bob McDonnell will use funds from the TTF and bonds to help pay for improvements to the corridor. Also, by providing modest resources for additional freight rail capacity (signal improvements, etc.) we can take many of the trucks off the road, improving safety and congestion on the interstate.”

    Hard to believe that “exploring ways to relieve congestion” and building signal improvements with “modest resources” will result in even one truck being taken off the road. I-81, and local roads generally, would see little or no benefit from McDonnell’s “comprehensive plan”.

    Meanwhile, Democrat Creigh Deeds doesn’t even list transportation on his issues page, even though he said it would be his top priority during the recent debate. Observers in the know tend to think this is because the only solutions he knows would actually work would be politically unpopular, and no one gets elected by promising to raise taxes.

  3. Renee says:

    I’m all for an I-81 corridor rail solution – both freight and passenger.

  4. The DNR story in today’s paper reports on another major traffic-stopping crash on 81 (and also references the Washington Post story).

  5. linz says:

    We desperately need rail solutions. Truck drivers, although doing an important and challenging job, are driving dangerous weapons (aka full trailers and tankers) at high speeds in the company of me and everyone else who would crunch like a paper wrapper if I had to hit my brakes and Mack was following too closely, as 90% of the drivers do, even when you’re actively passing in the left lane. It’s just a dangerous mix no matter how you look at it. 81 is a deathtrap and the statistics show.

  6. Bubby Hussein, Hillbilly Sheikh says:

    Deeds incorporates “transportation” issues into the larger issue of Virginia’s economy…it’s right there at the top of his web site with a button “read the plan”…A Plan to Jump Start Virginia’s Economy

    An innovative statewide transportation plan

    * Work with the General Assembly and local stakeholders to design and pass a long-term, multi-modal, statewide, creative transportation proposal in his first year as governor.
    * Bring high-speed rail to Virginia.
    * Expand traditional freight and passenger rail.
    * Reduce rush-hour traffic through telecommuting and flextime tax credits.
    * Promote smarter land use planning.
    * Strengthen oversight of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).
    * Invest in the port and work with military contractors and the Navy.
    * Expand road and rails projects in Southwest and Southside.
    * Ease congestion on the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.

  7. Justin says:

    Seems like the media is going to start controlling the public opinion on this one by now covering every accident that happens on 81, whereas before, like the one newspaper said, “There are so many accidents we can’t cover them all”. We’re going to be seeing a lot more of these.

  8. Karl says:

    Justin, what makes you think:

    “the media is going to start controlling the public opinion on this one by now covering every accident that happens on 81, whereas before, like the one newspaper said, “There are so many accidents we can’t cover them all”. We’re going to be seeing a lot more of these.”

    Hope it’s not because of the coverage of a 13 mile backup. Sorry, but the highway being completely shut down and a significant backup has always been “news.”

  9. Lowell Fulk says:

    You’re doing a fine job Karl, keep it up.

  10. JGFitzgerald says:

    The one newspaper that said it didn’t cover all the wrecks was a weekly. The fact they don’t have time and personnel to cover all the wrecks says as much about the state of the newspaper industry as it does about the wrecks. Regardless, it beggars the imagination to think a weekly in Rockbridge County represents “the media.” Never mind whether there’s a media plan to publicize wrecks. Wrecks have always been one of the three legs of the local breaking news tripod, along with fires and murders, and murders are just too scarce around here. Even, strangely, among bloggers.

  11. Karl says:

    It was a strange choice to talk to the folks in Lexington. As Joe stated, a weekly probably isn’t going to cover all the wrecks anyway. What news outlet does cover “all” the wrecks anyway? As far as broadcast news, every crash with a significant impact on traffic gets at least a mention, but I think coverage is different than a traffic alert.

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