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VDOT makes initial plans for I-81 expansion near Roanoke

Traffic flow on I-81, just north of Roanoke in Botetourt County
Jeff Bossert/RadioIQ
Traffic flow on I-81, just north of Roanoke

State transportation officials are in the very early stages of expanding Interstate 81 in one of its busiest areas.

The work entails an area just north of Roanoke, seven miles of I-81 in Roanoke and Botetourt Counties, expanding that stretch from two to three lanes in both directions.

Department of Transportation spokesman Jason Bond says the focus on the multiyear project is easing congestion in an area that suffers frequent crashes.

“And certainly by increasing capacity, you do see more area for drivers to pass, more capacity for drivers to make it through in that area," he said. "It also helps with incident response times, helping to clear incidents faster. So that’s the goal.”

VDOT is taking public comments on this work. Bond says that’s been helpful for those who live near the interstate, seeking noise barriers.

Construction won’t get underway until sometime in 2025, after VDOT completes the design work and hires a contractor. A similar project is underway now in the Salem area.

“A lot of the details as far as the sequence of construction, where things still start, how work zones will specifically be set up, they haven’t been determined at this point," he said. "But our intent is to keep traffic open on Interstate 81 open during those peak travel times.”

Nearly $480 million dollars in work marks the largest portion of more than $2-billion for I-81 approved by the General Assembly.

VDOT is taking public comments on this work. Bond says that’s been helpful for those who live near the interstate, seeking noise barriers.

At a recent hearing, others asked about changes coming to Exit 150, and sought modifications to the ramps for how motorists exited and entered that part of the Interstate.

Meanwhile, a group seeking more rail and bus service agrees the I-81 construction is needed, but also hopes to one day mitigate the need for this type of expansion.

Danny Plaugher is Executive Director of the Virginia Transit Association.

"We’re spending billions of dollars to expand, for a few hours a day – primarily rush hours- when those are the peak times when buses, trains, and other assets, and Northern Virginia subways- really have the biggest bang for the buck," he explained.

Plaugher said that can happen with planned Amtrak service to the New River Valley, set to finish in 2026.

Plans were also unveiled last year for the Commonwealth Corridor, a proposed east-west rail service from Hampton Roads stretching into Roanoke. Plaugher also s a growing number of young Virginians – or about a quarter of those age 16 to 34, don’t have a driver’s license, and now rely on a train or bus.

VDOT will be accepting public comments on the I-81 work through Friday. They can be mailed to:

Craig Moore, Virginia Department of Transportation, 731 Harrison Avenue, Salem, VA 24153

The agency is also accepting comments via email at:

Jeff Bossert is Radio IQ's Morning Edition host.
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