Kelly Dunn, project manager at VDOT, discussed the proposed closure of
Exit 167 on the southbound side of I-81 in Buchanan.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) held a design public hearing at Buchanan Elementary School last Tuesday, which allowed the community the opportunity to review the proposed Interstate 81 S-curve safety improvements between mile markers 167.4 and 169.5 on the southbound lane in Buchanan.

Representatives from VDOT were on hand and answered questions from the public. The proposed improvements include widening the shoulders along the outside lane and in the median between Purgatory Creek and a point approximately 0.24 miles south of the Exit 167 bridge in order to allow more room for vehicles to recover, applying treatment to increase pavement friction on the shoulders and travel lanes, closure and removal of the south-bound off ramp at Exit 167, and applying high visibility pavement markings. According to a document provided by VDOT at the meeting, the purpose of the proposed improvements is “to enhance safety and reduce crashes by implementing low-cost improvements.” The estimated cost of the project is $8.1 million, with $500,000 going toward preliminary engineering and $7.6 million going toward the actual construction required to implement the changes.

A combination of both state and federal funds will be used to cover the cost of the project. The proposed changes will cover a 2.1-mile stretch of the interstate. Currently, preliminary engineering is under way. Construction is set to begin in the summer of 2020, with the anticipated completion date set for sometime late in 2021. “Since 2012, VDOT has implemented similar safety measures in both directions on I-81 in this area, which have contributed to lowering the crash rate in the northbound direction by 55 percent,” the VDOT document stated.

“However, the crash rate in the southbound direction has only been reduced by 18 percent, so additional improvements are being considered.” Jason Bond, communications manager for the Salem District of VDOT, noted that the closure of Exit 167 shouldn’t have a signifi cant impact on drivers due to the fact that it is only used 168 times per day on average. Other nearby southbound exits are used an average of 460 times per day. The document provided by VDOT also indicates that the acquisition of right of way is not anticipated, meaning that displacement as a result of the project is unlikely. The 10-day comment period for the project will close on Friday. Comments should be directed to Kelly Dunn at kelly. dunn@vdot.virginia.gov

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