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Faster on I-81


Raising the speed limits on Virginia's interstate highways, including most of I-81 locally, is progress to Gov. Bob McDonnell, but many area residents beg to differ.

They contend daily with the congestion and stress of the interstate and know all too well how its inevitable mishaps cascade onto other roads, complicating even the simplest local expeditions.

The governor blithely insists that the higher speed limits will "help Virginians arrive at their destinations quicker and safer and will speed the delivery of goods and services throughout the commonwealth."

That bright assertion holds true in motoring paradise -- vehicles moving smoothly, drivers alert and courteous, clement weather -- but alter any one of those variables or just factor in mankind's innate propensity for error, and that efficient traffic artery becomes clogged or even blocked -- and perhaps deadly.

Motorists, determined to skirt the annoying complication to their interstate journey, inevitably bail out onto venerable U.S. 11, originally an Indian trail that by the 1830s had been expanded, graded and named the Valley Turnpike. That history, so ably detailed by Professor Warren Hofstra of Shenandoah University, is probably lost on the truckers, crawling through Valley towns.

McDonald's claim that faster speeds are safer belies logic and physics. Drivers will have less time to react and the behemoths of the road will collide with more force.
The higher speed limit is an acknowledgment of the status quo: Most vehicles on I-81 already travel 70 miles per hour. The only question is whether people will drive even faster, further imperiling them and their fellow travelers.

The governor says the higher speed limits are "just one step forward in our efforts to significantly improve Virginia's transportation system." While debatable, it is certainly easier than implementing a large-scale, long-term plan to enhance the state's neglected, congested roads.


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