ROANOKE, VA-The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has expanded safety patrols along Interstate 81 following the approval of funding during the 2019 legislative session. The expansion efforts are expected to improve response times to both I-81 and I-66 in Western Virginia.
The improvements come as part of the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan. According to Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine, the planned changes are expected to result in an annual reduction of 450 crashes, along with 6 million fewer hours of delay.
Steve Kelley and Chad Light were traveling along the interstate when their tire blew.
“It was scary. We were in the middle lane, in this traffic,” says Kelley.
“We slid a little bit. It was nerve wracking,” says Light.
Within 15 minutes, a VDOT safety service patrol driver pulled up to help.
“At least you’ve got something you know that if there’s a major problem, somebody’s going to help you,” says Kelley.
VDOT has increased the Safety Service Patrols by 12 full-time drivers and 14 patrol trucks. The Salem district has received seven of the additional Safety Service drivers, as well as seven patrol trucks.
“More than half of the congestion that occurs on interstate 81 is due to incidents, so anything we can do to try to speed up and respond to those incidents more quickly, can help drivers get moving more faster,” says VDOT spokesperson Jason Bond.
The additional personnel will allow for the expansion of 15 miles of Salem district’s coverage area. It is also expected to decrease response times.
“It will help us more quickly respond to incidents because we’ll have more operators on shorter routes,” says Mike King, manager of Southwest Region Safety Service Patrol.
The Safety Service Patrols program focuses on identifying incidents and traffic disruptions and coordinating an appropriate response. The patrols are also responsible for minimizing incident duration, clearing the roadway of debris or hazards, and establishing traffic control for emergency responders.
“Because whenever you have a major incident, the worst thing is the secondary accidents to follow because of the traffic backup,” says Ralph Kirk, a supervisor with Safety Service Patrol.
Further improvements will be implemented in the coming months, including additional traffic cameras and new message boards.