“Which-way-ville”: Making Sense of Wytheville, Virginia’s Interstate Routes

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Westbound highway in southwestern Virginia simultaneously carries Interstate 77 and Interstate 81 in opposite directions. The wrong-way concurrency is also reflected in U.S. Route 52 and U.S. Route 11, which are concurrent with I-77 and I-81, respectively. Photo courtesy of Admrboltz
Westbound highway in southwestern Virginia simultaneously carries Interstate 77 and Interstate 81 in opposite directions. The wrong-way concurrency is also reflected in U.S. Route 52 and U.S. Route 11, which are concurrent with I-77 and I-81, respectively. Photo courtesy of Admrboltz

Interstate travel is supposed to be simple and easy, which quite often is the case, but an 8-mile section of roadway tucked away in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia are anything but easy to understand for the unsuspecting traveler!

Wythe County, Virginia, is celebrated around the nation for its natural beauty. With scenery that includes thousands of acres of national forest lands and the north flowing New River, it’s no wonder why more and more people are choosing to vacation in Wytheville (WITH’-vihl).

Despite being largely rural, the locality is also crisscrossed by Interstates 77 and 81, which connect Cleveland, Ohio, to Columbia, South Carolina, and New York to Tennessee, respectively.  Together, the two interstates are responsible for propelling more than 70,000 motor vehicles into the county of 29,000 residents each day.

Though both interstates are officially north-south interstate highways (hence the odd numbers), I-81 actually passes through the county from east to west and for roughly eight miles becomes one with I-77 (From Wytheville to Fort Chiswell) — and herein the confusion begins!

A motorist traveling southbound from Charleston, WV, to Columbia, SC, via I-77, must begin traveling northbound via I-81/77 once they reach Wytheville, VA, until reaching Fort Chiswell, VA, where the two shared interstates part ways.

While on this eight mile stretch, the traveler will be on a highway that is lined with signs stating that he or she is on I-81 North, I-77 South, US-11 North, and US-52 South all at the same time.

Interestingly, the individual will actually be moving geographically due-east.

The overlapping roadways is known as “Wrong Way Concurrency” and can create a natural punishment to the distracted cell-phone user driver, as failure to pay the utmost of attention can quickly result in a traveler being forced to backtrack 100 miles.

“I was once in Bristol, Virginia, and overheard a woman say on a cell phone, ‘We’re about 7 miles from the West Virginia stateline,” stated one lifelong Wythe County resident.

“I knew immediately that she had gotten turned around in Wytheville and after talking with her, that’s exactly what happened.”

Though GPS has helped to alleviate a lot of the confusion that once plagued the stretch of highway, it has done very little to reduce the amount traffic that become log jammed in Fort Chiswell near the exit where I-77 meets with I-81.  The area has become notorious to travelers throughotu the nation for heavy congestion, especially around the Memorial Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

So here’s to an awesome afternoon in Which-way-ville… I mean Wytheville.  One of the most beautiful, albeit confusing places in Appalachia!

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