The southbound Exit 167 ramp would be closed as part of the design safety improvements proposed for southbound I-81 just north of Buchanan.
Photo by Aila Boyd

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will hold a public hearing to discuss a project to improve safety along southbound Interstate 81 between mile markers 167.4 and 169.5 in Botetourt County on January 29 from 5 to 7 p.m.

The hearing will be held at Buchanan Elementary School located at 255 School House Road in Buchanan.

The design public hearing is being held to provide an opportunity for citizens or organizations to give input on the project and will be held in an “open-house” format. VDOT representatives will be present to discuss the project and answer questions.

The project entails implementing safety improvements along southbound Interstate 81 between mile markers 167.4 and 169.5. These improvements include widening the shoulders on two curves, applying a treatment to increase pavement friction on the shoulders and travel lanes and installing enhanced pavement markings.

VDOT has implemented similar safety measures in this area in both directions on Interstate 81, which have contributed to lowering the crash rate in the northbound direction by 55 percent. However, the crash rate in the southbound direction has only been reduced by 18 percent, so additional improvements are being considered.

The project also includes the closure and removal of the southbound off ramp at Exit 167 (Buchanan) to reduce speed differentials, conflict points and lane changes associated with exiting vehicles.

“It’s such a great idea,” Jason Tyree, town manager for the Town of Buchanan, said of the closure of Exit 167.

If the closure proceeds as planned, Tyree explained that Exit 168, which is currently listed as the Arcadia exit, will become the official Buchanan exit on the southbound lane.

Tyree explained that the proposed safety improvements will significantly impact Buchanan. Currently, he said, whenever there is an accident in the Buchanan area of I-81, traffic is detoured through the town.

On average, he said, detours through Buchanan occur every 90 days or so.

“Hopefully, the straightening of that curve will prevent a lot of those accidents from occurring,” Tyree said.

Tyree noted that because detour routes always lead directly down Main Street, the daily routines of citizens are significantly interrupted.

“A lot of Buchanan citizens use the sidewalk as their main means of traveling,” Tyree said. “When there’s a lot of detour traffic, it creates hardships for them. It’s very dangerous.”

He added that there’s an indirect impact on local commerce as well due to the fact that citizens aren’t able to navigate their way to and from shops as easily as they would be otherwise.

Comments about the project may be submitted at the hearing or until February 8 to Kelly Dunn, P.E., Project Manager, 731 Harrison Avenue, Salem, 24153. Comments can also be emailed to Reference “I-81 S-Curve Safety Improvements–Botetourt County” in the subject heading.