Safety measures work in Virginia

News VDOT March 30, 2004
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Recent improvements to I-81 in the Roanoke and New River, Va

Recent improvements to I-81 in the Roanoke and New River, Va., valleys are protecting drivers and increasing safety on the busy highway.

New guardrail installed along the inside lanes of I-81 in Botetourt, Montgomery and Pulaski counties has been struck by vehicles more than 100 times since installation was complete in late 2002 and has prevented countless crossover crashes and possible serious injuries. Also, the number of crashes reported on I-81 along a 15-mile section designated as a Safety Enforcement Zone has decreased by 20% compared to last year.

"Although there is a lot of talk about how I-81 may look in the future, we're busy today working to keep people safe," said Fred Altizer, I-81 program manager and assistant to the chief engineer for the Virginia Department of Transportation. "The new guardrail is crumpled and banged up and looks like it's been in a war zone, and that proves our investment of nearly $7 million is paying off in saving lives."

Many of the damaged spots are on the back of the opposite lane's guardrail, showing that a vehicle left one side of the highway, crossed the median, struck the rail on the other side of the highway and was prevented from entering the opposite lane. "Some of these vehicles could have been involved in head-on crashes if they had not been stopped by the new guardrail," said Altizer.

Guardrail was installed on sections of I-81 where the median is narrow. In Montgomery and Pulaski counties, narrow-median guardrail on southbound sections of I-81 has been struck at least 17 times, and northbound guardrail has been hit 26 times. In Botetourt County, there are 39 southbound hits and 21 northbound.

More guardrail will be installed along medians in Roanoke County and Salem starting this spring at an estimated cost of $1.8 million.

Another recent I-81 safety improvement also is showing positive results. In January, a 15-mile section from Ironto in Montgomery County to Salem was designated as a Safety Enforcement Zone. From Jan. 13-March 20, 70 crashes occurred in the stretch compared to 87 for the same period in 2003, a 20% decline. During that same time period, state police have issued 385 tickets to motorists in the zone, most of them for speeding. Drivers in the Safety Enforcement Zone who are cited for breaking traffic and criminal laws can receive tickets with fines up to $2,500.

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