Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I-64 over Afton Mountain to receive improvements

For years I-64 over Afton Mountain has been a foggy gap through the mountains in bad weather as well as icy, snowy, windy, and every other weather condition possible. Since it was completed in 1972, this interstate that connects the coast of Virginia westward to the mountains has been used by millions of travelers. It's gentle grade and curves made crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains far easier and safer than in the past, and in good conditions it's a breeze to drive.

That is, until bad weather hits, and one particularly nasty deterrent over the years has been fog that can be as thick as pea soup, literally limiting visibility to about as far as the front of your vehicle. With eyes squinting to see through the thick, opaque haze, it can make for a white-knuckle, heart-stopping drive as you go up against Mother Nature.

And then there's the other drivers. That's where Russian roulette comes into play because some drivers feel completely safe continuing at the 65 mph posted speed limit even though they can't see beyond their noses. Others slow down ... but how much? Some almost stop while others feel safe at 55 or 45 or 35. That's a dangerous mix on foggy or wintry Afton.

For years those living in the area have suggested that a variable speed limit would be helpful under such conditions. Improvements have been made as far as automatic fog lights that outline lanes making it easier not to drive over the side of the mountain, and electronic signs with messages warning of inclement conditions. But the speed limit issue was still there. And pileups still happened even with the improvements.

Thankfully, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a new phase of improvements is going to be put in place and, included in Phase 2, will be the variable speed signs:
The variable speed limit would allow VDOT to not only detect inclement weather or changing traffic patterns but automatically alter the road’s legal speed limit to prepare drivers for the conditions.

In Afton, Shiley said, “we looked at crash types, not just number of crashes, and it led us to this solution: We really need to have something to get motorists to slow down when we have fog conditions or winter weather conditions.”
Afton is legendary for the pileups that have occurred over the years:
In April 1992, state police responded to a 60-car pileup that resulted in two fatalities. In April 1998, a 65-car pileup sent 40 people to area hospitals. Then, less than three weeks later, the road was the site of an 18-car collision. In all three incidents, police reported that fog was a major factor.
The new improvements will be welcomed. Now if we could just get climbing lanes....

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