STRASBURG — Interstate 81 is often plagued by traffic congestion and a high rate of accidents. To address these problems, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is studying the I-81 corridor to come up with a viable solution.

A public meeting will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Strasburg High School, 250 Ram Drive, to provide information about the study. Attendees at the meeting will be able to ask questions, voice their concerns on the interstate, and give input on financing options.

Joining the study is the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

As directed in state Senate Bill 971 (now 2018 Acts of Assembly Chapter 743), the study team will identify targeted improvements along I-81 and find potential revenue sources that could be dedicated to those improvements. SB 971 was introduced by state senators Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) and Bill Carrico (R-Grayson).

Tuesday’s meeting will be focused on identifying specific issues along I-81 that need to be addressed, including crash frequency, crash severity, hours of delay and incidents that close interstate travel lanes for time periods of more than one hour. This will be the first in a series of meetings that the public can attend to provide input to the study as work progresses.

The I-81 corridor accounts for 42 percent of statewide truck traffic and is used to transport $312 billion in goods each year. According to SB 971, the commonwealth sees an average of 2,000 crashes on I-81 each year, with 30 of these accidents being major truck crashes with clearance times of greater than six hours.

On the stretch of I-81 in Frederick County, there were 215 crashes in 2017, four of which resulted in six deaths, according to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). In 2016, there were 212 crashes that resulted in one traffic death.

The bill states that the loss of one lane on I-81 causes a 65 percent reduction in highway capacity and that delays due to crashes — particularly those involving heavy trucks — undermine the reliability of the I-81 transportation corridor.

One of the options the Commonwealth Transportation Board will consider is establishing high-occupancy toll lanes to finance I-81 improvements.

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Also on Tuesday, VDOT will hold another meeting in the same room at the same time as the I-81 study meeting to discuss replacing the Interstate 81 bridge on Millwood Pike (U.S. 17/50/522) east of Winchester. Separate displays and information will be available for each meeting.

The Millwood Pike bridge over Interstate 81 at Exit 313 was built in 1964 and is reaching the end of its service life.

VDOT, which inspects bridges at least once every two years, rates bridges from one to nine, with one being the worst.

In 2013, the Millwood Pike overpass rated a four.

Tuesday’s public meeting will help the state determine if a replacement of the Millwood Pike overpass should be included in the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s Six-Year Improvement Program, which allocates state and federal funding to transportation repairs and improvements throughout the state.

The Six-Year Improvement Program is updated every year. The Commonwealth Transportation Board is scheduled to vote on the proposed plan for fiscal years 2019 through 2024 at its meeting on June 20 at VDOT’s Central Office in Richmond.

The proposed FY 2019-2024 plan includes $52,188,156 for 36 new projects, including 10 in the Winchester area with a total cost of $10,582,900.

Among the local projects are $3 million for drainage improvements along North Cameron Street in Winchester, $1.7 million to improve southbound Valley Pike (U.S. 11) in the Kernstown area of Frederick County, and $1,177,000 to widen the shoulders and install rumble strips along Berryville Pike (Va. 7) in Clarke County.

If the replacement bridge on Millwood Pike is added to the Six Year Improvement Plan, the Winchester-Frederick Metropolitan Planning Organization may apply for Smart Scale funding for the project. Smart Scale is Virginia’s data-driven process to allocate funding. VDOT Spokesperson Sandy Myers said the estimated cost for replacing the bridge is currently $27.5 million.

— Contact Josh Janney at jjanney@winchesterstar.com

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