Letter to the Editor: We need a plan to fix traffic flow on Interstate 81


Another day, another incident on Interstate 81. Who died or was maimed today?

Another day of traffic diverted through our communities. No one fathoms the volume of I-81 traffic until you funnel it onto U.S. 11.

As I sit in traffic I can’t help but think about the things I read in the paper, and I grow angry by the minute. The governor would like to put tolls on Interstate 95. That will divert more traffic to I-81. Area special interest groups and some local politicians say additional lanes are not the answer to the volume that has grown exponentially since it was built in the 60s to an annual average traffic flow of between 30-40,000 vehicles in Shenandoah County and close to 50,000 in Harrisonburg and Winchester.

Since I-81 was built 50 years ago, there has been no substantial improvement to accommodate increased volume other than lengthened acceleration / deceleration lanes on some exits.

The solution will take a mix of innovative ideas, including additional lanes. Diverting truck traffic to the rails is unrealistic, and if railroads, trucking companies and those shipping freight thought it was profitable or beneficial, they would be doing it. Railroad companies are bureaucratic and inefficient, and they’ll only pursue this option if the government underwrites needed infrastructure improvements costs. The volume of personal vehicles continues to increase. Trucks offer shippers flexibility and doorstep delivery that railroads cannot match.

The time has come for state politicians to stop suggesting that better law enforcement is a solution to deaths and injuries on the interstate. It will help, but is not a long-term solution.

Asking our Sheriff’s Office to use deputies to patrol the interstate is another case of passing off state responsibilities to localities. Interstate 81 is a federal/state issue. Voters need to hold legislators and those seeking statewide office accountable. We need a plan. I will never see anything in my lifetime, but perhaps my children or grandchildren may see improvements if we elect candidates with the courage to do the right thing rather than respond to party edicts or special interests.

Bill Pence, Woodstock