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VDOT expands I-81 motorist assistance force

VDOT expands I-81 motorist assistance force

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Virginia expanded its crew of roving troubleshooters on Interstate 81 on Monday.

A safety service patrol unit is a contractor-operated truck whose driver can help stranded motorists with minor vehicle issues, remove debris and lend a hand with lane closures.

The team has increased from 21 to 28 operators in the Roanoke-Blacksburg region as a result of a traffic-flow plan that’s new this year.

The General Assembly this spring came up with a plan for more patrols, message boards and construction. On Monday, the first day of the new fiscal year, the I-81 plan and the fee and tax measures to pay for it took effect.

Two highway segments that weren’t previously patrolled are mile marker 101 to 109, which straddles the Montgomery County-Pulaski County line, and mile marker 168 to 175 in Botetourt County, said spokesman Jason Bond with the Virginia Department of Transportation.

In addition, patrol response times should improve regionally, Bond said.

The patrols drive assigned routes in a white truck with orange and blue trim and respond to incidents from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily in the Roanoke-Blacksburg region.

Operators can supply a jump start, a small amount of gasoline, cooling system fluid, directions and access to a phone, or change a tire.

VDOT instituted the free assistance program to quickly fix obstacles to good traffic flow so that a stalled vehicle or piece of blown tire doesn’t create a traffic jam.

It has operated for years except for a three-year hiatus after the last recession. The state’s contractor is AECOM, a global engineering firm with an office in Glen Allen.

“This is definitely a service that people use and we get very positive feedback about it,” Bond said.

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Jeff Sturgeon covers the city of Roanoke, including schools, banking and transportation. Phone: (540) 981-3251. Email: jeff.sturgeon@roanoke.com. Mail: 201 W. Campbell Ave., Roanoke, VA 24011.

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