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VDOT's Safety Service Patrol expands on Interstate 81

Seven new Safety Service Patrol vehicles are on the roads because of the expansion. | Credit:...
Seven new Safety Service Patrol vehicles are on the roads because of the expansion. | Credit: WHSV(WHSV)
Published: Jul. 2, 2019 at 4:22 PM EDT
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The VDOT Safety Service Patrol is expanding, thanks to money from the state. The expansion is addressing improvements identified in

.

Before the expansion, there were 13 drivers patrolling routes in the Staunton and Culpeper VDOT districts. Those districts largely cover the northwestern portion of the state. Now, after an additional $1.2 million in funding, there are two new routes, plus seven new drivers and trucks between the two districts.

One of those routes covers mile marker 205 through 235 in Augusta County, and the other is in Frederick County. The safety service patrol drivers patrol their routes every day, looking to help any drivers in need, whether they've run out of gas, have a flat tire or are experiencing mechanical issues. The SSP also helps with incident management during traffic crashes.

VDOT said the expansion can help ease traffic issues on the interstate, since many of the back-ups on I-81 are because of incidents along the highway, as opposed to backups on other interstates caused by congestion.

"We will be able to respond to incidents more quickly and get resources there to open travel lanes more quickly, that's their number one goal," Matthew Shiley, VDOT regional operations director, said.

Dean Webster, a safety service patrol foreman, said the expansion to almost complete coverage of the interstates in the districts means they'll be able to help more people.

"Now we don't have any dead spots, where before you might be sitting just two miles off of our route, our normal routes, we can go and make sure you're on the move," Webster said.

Webster has been part of the safety service patrol for six years, but was previously a state trooper. He added the SSP does a lot to help out state troopers, since they're able to take care of smaller incidents, like flat tires.

The safety service patrol expansion officially happened July 1, and it's just the first of new safety updates being made using funding from the state and suggestions from the I-81 improvement plan.

VDOT is also looking at putting in additional cameras along the interstate, as well as new message boards.

“Implementing the improvements identified in the I-81 Corridor Improvement Plan is expected to result in an annual reduction of 450 crashes and 6 million hours of delay,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “The increased Safety Service Patrols allow us to begin immediately making I-81 safer and more reliable.”

They got nearly immediate experience handling an Interstate 81 shutdown on Tuesday afternoon due to

.

The Safety Service Patrol program operates on most major highways throughout Virginia. The service is managed by VDOT’s five regional traffic operations centers.