The dangers of Interstate 81 in Virginia | Allen and Allen

The dangers of Interstate 81 in Virginia 

Stretching 325 miles from Winchester in the north to Bristol in the south, Interstate 81 is the longest interstate highway in Virginia. It’s also the primary corridor for economic activity moving through western Virginia. Within the state alone, I-81 connects 30 colleges and universities, 21 cities and towns, and 13 counties. It also parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

truck riding over bridge

The construction of 81 began in Virginia in 1957, and in the years since, the interstate has become increasingly notorious for heavy congestion and frequent crashes. Many of these crashes involve tractor-trailers. With its total length spanning from Tennessee to upstate New York, I-81 is considered one of the top eight trucking routes in the United States, serving as the main link between southern economic hubs and northeast markets. 

Truck volume on the highway has surged in recent years. Originally, I-81 was designed for 15% big rig traffic. Recent data indicates that trucks constitute 20% – 30% of total traffic on the highway. This amounts to 11.7 million trucks carrying $312 billion in goods per year.  In Virginia, 42% of the total statewide interstate truck miles traveled are on I-81 alone. 

heavy highway traffic at sunset

The prevalence of tractor-trailers on I-81 poses a unique safety risk. Their imposing size and weight create added dangers on congested roadways, particularly given the mountainous topography of I-81 through Virginia. In many areas the roadway narrows substantially, with tighter curves and steeper slopes than many other highways further east. For example, 48 miles of I-81 in Virginia have grades of greater than 3%. Weather is also a frequent contributing factor, especially when winter storms bring ice and snow to western Virginia. 

All of these factors create an environment in which crashes involving tractor-trailers seem to be an almost daily occurrence. VDOT has published data showing that approximately 2,000 crashes occur along I-81 each year. Twenty-two percent of those crashes involved trucks. Tragically, many of the incidents prove fatal. 

truck on highway loaded with bales of hay

The challenges posed by the increasing 18-wheeler traffic on I-81 have not gone ignored. Virginia has implemented the I-81 Improvement Program. VDOT’s website hosts various resources regarding the program, including an interactive map for tracking the projects which have been completed, are underway or are currently in the planning stages. 

Yet even as officials work to address the problem, heavy tractor-trailer volume remains a danger to motorists traveling on I-81. Allen & Allen’s experienced tractor-trailer attorneys have published safety tips on how to share the road with big trucks. 

As personal injury attorneys serving Virginia, Allen & Allen has extensive experience representing clients who have been injured due to tractor-trailer crashes on I-81. If you or your family have been impacted by such a collision, the trucking attorneys at Allen & Allen are here to lend our expertise. Call for a free consultation today, at 866-388-1307.