BLACKSBURG, Va. — The need for more federal funding to improve safety on Interstate 81 was a central topic Monday at the annual meeting of the I-81 Corridor Coalition at Virginia Tech, according to Washington County Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham.
The coalition is a partnership of local, regional and state governments and organizations from each of the six states through which the interstate highway passes.
Callaham — who is representing the Washington County Board of Commissioners at the two-day conference at the university Monday and Tuesday — said by telephone that she was struck by several of the statistics discussed Monday.
An estimated 135,000 college students travel on I-81 to get to 30 colleges along the interstate, Callaham said. The statistic underscores the importance of safety, because some of those students are involved in crashes every year, she said.
Another eye-opening statistic was that I-81 carries 23 percent of the freight traffic nationally, Callaham said. In contrast, Interstate-95 carries 8 percent, she said.
Callaham said that distinction could help I-81 compete with I-95 for federal and state funding.
“I-95 gets the lion’s share of funding for obvious reasons,” she said. “It passes right through Washington, D.C.”
Callaham said she planned to bring up a local example in which improvements are needed for safety reasons. She said the merge area on I-81 south from U.S. 40 near the Centre at Hagerstown is very short.
“There’s no area to get up to speed, and those trucks, they can’t move over; they’re going 80 mph,” Callaham said.
Meeting participants also discussed using electronic signs and emergency-notification systems to better inform drivers about crashes and closures, she said.
Other topics included tolls, rail freight and public education, Callaham said.
Also representing the county at the meeting are Public Works Director Joseph Kroboth III and Joseph Rathvon, an analyst with the GIS Office of the Information Technologies Department.