Interstate 81 or I -81 is an Interstate Highway in the US state of Virginia. The highway runs more or less parallel to the West Virginia border to the northeast, through the more sparsely populated west of the state. The only larger town on the route is Roanoke. Interstate 81 is 523 kilometers long in Virginia.
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I-81 near Roanoke.
I-64/81 at Staunton.
I-81 north of Strasburg.
At Bristol, I-81 enters the state of Virginia from Tennessee . Interstate 81 in Tennessee comes from Knoxville. The highway runs parallel to the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains to the east. It is also Virginia’s westernmost highway. At Abingdon you cross the US 19, which leads to Bluefield. The US 11 runs parallel to the highway. The valley through which one passes is quite wide and consists mainly of meadows. To the south is the Mount Rogers National Recreational Area. The mountains around are about 1200 meters high. After about 120 kilometers you reach the town of Wytheville, where Interstate 77short-lived with I-81 is double-numbered. I-77 proceeds north to Beckley and Charleston in West Virginia and finally to Cleveland in Ohio. I-77 runs south to Charlotte in North Carolina and Columbia in South Carolina.
There are quite a few state routes in the region that are well developed, with 1×4 or 2×2 lanes. I-81 intersects some of these state routes, which don’t lead to really big places. At Christiansburg, you cross US 460, which forms a short highway to Blacksburg and on to Princeton in West Virginia. From Christiansburg one dives into the hills and the whole is also a lot more densely wooded. One then reaches the town of Roanoke, the principal city in Virginia right off I-81. Here one crosses Interstate 581, which runs to downtown Roanoke and also gives access to US 220, which leads south to Martinsville. The area around Roanoke is very scenic, with deep valleys and reservoirs.
One then crosses the James River, which is still quite small and flows east to Richmond. The area remains quite hilly, with quite a lot of forest. To the north the valleys become wider and wider. Interstate 64 merges near the village of Lexington, which comes from Beckley. Both roads are then double-numbered for a longer stretch, covering about 50 kilometers to Staunton. Still parallel to I-81, US 11. At the 24,000-population town of Staunton, I-64 turns east toward Richmond and Norfolk. The forests are decreasing more and more, this area now consists mainly of meadows.
At Harrisonburg, one crosses US 33, which leads to Elkins in West Virginia and to Richmond in the east. Both to the east and west are steep ridges some distance away. US 211 begins at New Market, which leads to Washington. At Strasburg, Interstate 66 turns off to Washington. This is the last highway interchange in Virginia from I-81. You then pass by Winchester, a regional town in northern Virginia. Here one also crosses the US 50. Shortly after, they cross the border into West Virginia and Interstate 81 in West Virginia continues to Hagerstown and Harrisburg.
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I-81 near Lexington.
Most of Interstate 81 opened at a rapid pace in the 1960s. The route had great significance as a connection from the northeast to the south of the United States. The first section to open was the Pulaski Bypass in 1959. The Harrisonburg Bypass opened in 1960 and the Bristol Bypass in 1961. The highway opened quickly after that and was more or less complete by 1969, except for two sections, a section between Christiansburg and Dixie Caverns, near Roanoke, which opened in 1971, and a delayed section east of Whyteville, which is double-numbered. with I-77. It only opened to traffic in two phases in 1985 and 1987.
Dates that are not exact are often phased opening and indicate the last opening of that road section.
|Exit 89||Exit 94||8 km||01-11-1959|
|Exit 243||Exit 251||13 km||00-07-1960|
|exit 0||Exit 5||8 km||20-11-1961|
|exit 80||Exit 89||14 km||00-08-1962|
|Exit 5||Exit 50||72 km||00-10-1963|
|Exit 132||Exit 156||37 km||00-12-1964|
|Exit 50||Exit 73||37 km||00-09-1965|
|Exit 94||Exit 118||39 km||00-11-1965|
|Exit 156||Exit 175||29 km||00-12-1965|
|Exit 298||Exit 323||40 km||00-10-1966|
|Exit 251||Exit 298||76 km||00-12-1966|
|Exit 175||Exit 213||61 km||00-09-1967|
|Exit 213||Exit 243||48 km||00-08-1969|
|Exit 118||Exit 132||23 km||21-12-1971|
|Exit 73||miles 75||3 km||00-09-1985|
|miles 75||Exit 77||3 km||14-07-1987|
Interstate 81 is a major transportation corridor, despite serving few major cities. This is mainly used intensively by freight traffic from the south and southwest of the United States to the northeast, thus avoiding the crowds around Washington, DC and Baltimore. Due to the high freight volumes, proposals have been made to widen the entire I-81 in Virginia to 2×3 or even 4×2 lanes, with separate lanes for freight traffic. Given the high costs, such a project is not possible without tolls.
In 2012, a study began to widen I-81 between I-581 in Roanoke and Exit 118 in Christiansburg 40 kilometers to 2×3 lanes. On January 8, 2019, a $2.2 billion financing deal was announced that will include widening sections of I-81, with tolling charges. This plan will widen multiple stretches to 2×3 lanes, between Exit 114 and Exit 150 (Christiansburg – Roanoke), Exit 221-225 (I-64 – Staunton), Exit 243-248 (Harrisonburg passage) and Exit 313- 317 (by Winchester). In addition, dozens of point improvements are made, as well as some extra climbing lanes for trucks.
I-81 is not a very busy highway. Between Bristol and Wytheville there are between 30,000 and 40,000 vehicles per day. At the level of the double numbering with the I-77, that is somewhat higher with 50,000 vehicles. At Roanoke there are 60,000 vehicles, but this drops to 50,000 between Lexington and Staunton, double numbering with I-64. As far as Winchester on the West Virginia border, 40,000 vehicles a day drive, fairly standard for a connecting highway in the eastern United States. The large amount of freight traffic is a bigger problem than the traffic volumes themselves.