Michelle Earl 276-696-3283

Sept. 4, 2013


BRISTOL – The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has some new additions and some future plans for Interstates 81 and 77 to keep motorists moving safely to their destinations. 

Flashing Warning Chevrons

Chevrons are all the buzz in fashion today, but the chevron has been in style along Virginia’s highways for decades.  Some new lighted chevrons along Interstate 81 southbound at mile marker 76 are the latest evolution for VDOT this season. 

Motorists who travel through the area at a rate of speed over 60 mph will activate the light-up chevron system, causing the chevrons to blink and increase the signs’ visibility to tell motorists they are exceeding the recommended speed of 60 mph.

“Although the speed limit is enforced at 70 mph along I-81, the curve at this location creates the need to encourage motorists to slow down to the recommended speed of 60 mph,” John Bechtold, Bristol Area Traffic Engineer, said.

“The chevrons have been used successfully in other states and we are interested in seeing if they enhance safety at this location.”

Interstate 81 north at Exit 81 – traffic pattern change

Another enhancement along Interstate 81 is a change northbound to the lane configuration at exit 81.  Motorists now have the option to use the middle lane of Interstate 81 northbound to exit onto Interstate 77 south or to stay on Interstate 81 north.  Prior to the change only the right lane provided access to I-77 and the middle lane continued north on I-81. 

The goal of the traffic pattern changes is to increase the amount of traffic that can access Interstate 77 southbound toward North Carolina. 

Interstate 77 northbound at exit 32: “Late Merge”

During holiday weekends and summertime weekends when travel volumes are at their peaks, VDOT will implement a low-cost use of technology to reduce congestion and improve traffic flow on northbound I-77 where it meets Interstate 81.   Called a late merge or zipper merge in some states, the method encourages motorists via message boards to use both lanes and not to merge until closer to the traffic split.  At the recommended merge area signs will encourage motorists to be courteous and take turns to improve the efficiency of the merge. 

“Upon multiple reviews of this traffic situation, a recurring issue was trucks and cars merging too soon and blocking the lanes,” Bechtold said. “We are testing this type of merge to see if it can improve the situation along I-77 and allow traffic to move more smoothly through the merge.”

(To view a YouTube video from Colorado DOT describing late merge, click here:

Interstate shields

In addition to the overhead signs telling motorists where to exit for I-77 in Wythe County, interstate shields will be painted on the recently paved asphalt in advance of the I-77 exits. 



The interstate shields will be the standard red, white and blue shields motorists use to navigate the interstate highway system (shown right).  They will have the shield as well as to what direction that lane carries traffic.  For instance, motorists traveling Interstate 81 northbound will see an I-77 southbound shield in the right lane near exit 81 to let them know that lane continues onto I-77 south.


“The shields on pavement are just another visual to help motorists navigate through the I-81/I-77 overlap safely and efficiently,” Bechtold said. 

Interstate 77 northbound at exit 32: long-term

A long-term fix for the traffic merging issue at I-77 northbound exit 32 is also in the planning stage.  Preliminary design work is underway to add a lane at I-77 northbound exit 32, eliminating the current merge of I-77 traffic to one lane to merge with I-81 northbound. 

The $10 million project, fully funded in the most recent addition of VDOT’s Six-Year Transportation Program, is scheduled to be constructed beginning in spring 2017.

Interstate 81/77 Overlap 

Following the findings from an I-81/I-77 corridor study, the Commonwealth Transportation Board in May 2012 selected the option to add a lane in each direction of the overlap at its current location.   (Link to the corridor study:

Because the work would need to be done in segments, research and planning is underway to determine how best to proceed.

“Widening sections of a heavily traveled interstate will take time, great resources and good planning,” Mike Russell, VDOT District Administrator said. “The info this research provides will help us determine priorities and what the funding needs are for each segment.”

VDOT plans to get the research and planning results this fall.  Currently, funding for widening of any sections of the I-77/I-81 overlap has not been allocated.

Citizens and local officials will have the opportunity to bring their roadway priorities for interstate and primary highways directly to the Commonwealth Transportation Board Tuesday, November 19 at VDOT’s Six-Year Improvement Plan Meeting at the Holiday Inn in Bristol, located on Linden Drive. 

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. with an open house format, allowing the public to view displays and maps of statewide projects.  Public comments will be received beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Know before you go

VDOT has multiple resources to keep Virginians and travelers informed of VDOT projects and activities:

  • Before a trip, motorists can visit to see lane closures, accident information, view video cameras and message boards along their route.
  • Motorists can call 511 from the road for traveler information
  • VDOT’s Call Center is staffed 24/7 to answer questions: 1-800-FOR-ROAD (1-800-367-7623)
  • VDOT uses multiple social media sites to communicate with motorists: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, and VDOT RSS feeds. (
  • For more information on VDOT and projects throughout Virginia, visit




Information in VDOT news releases was accurate at the time the release was published. For the most current information about projects or programs, please visit the project or program Web pages. You may find those by searching by keyword in the search Virginia DOT box above.

Page last modified: Sept. 4, 2013