DOT engineer: I-85 project is 'fairly typical' despite dozens of accidents, slowdowns

Posted August 25, 2017 12:46 p.m. EDT
Updated August 25, 2017 7:00 p.m. EDT

A major repaving and bridge-upgrade project on Interstate 85 between Henderson and the Virginia state line is causing headaches for drivers.

There have been a lot of crashes in that area, too. People in Vance and Warren counties say driving through the I-85 work zone is a mess as the interstate squeezes into one lane in each direction.

Joel Valentine beats the traffic with alternate routes.

"Very seldom do I travel 85," Valentine said. "Normally, I would use it going back and forth to work, but now I use US-1 most of the time."

Between May 1 and July 31, state troopers and Henderson police have responded to 88 crashes in that stretch of highway. North Carolina Department of Transportation Engineer Boyd Tharrington said the improvement project is not unusual.

"As with any interstate work zone, we do anticipate an increase in incidents within the life of the project," Tharrington said. "I think this project is fairly typical of other interstate projects."

The vast majority of collisions on the interstate have been rear-enders, which means people were not paying attention, Tharrington said.

"Those can be usually attributed to distracted driving, folks tailgating, speed or aggressive driving," he said.

The bottom line: slow down and pay attention. The delays aren't going away anytime soon.

Work will shift to the other side of the highway next year, and drivers can expect similar backups through the end of 2018.

Valentine says he'll be glad when it's done.

"Hopefully it'll be a lot better than it is now," Valentine said.

The DOT says navigation apps will give drivers the best information about delays and detours. But there are tricks to get around the mess:

Southbound drivers can stay on I-95 out of Petersburg, Virginia. Take it to Rocky Mount, then head west on U.S. Highway 64 all the way to Raleigh.

Take Interstate 540 west to Interstate 40 west, and then proceed to I-85 south in Hillsborough.

It adds miles, but it might be faster than traffic on I-85.