The Virginia State Police has reported 18 crashes over the last 15 months in the construction zone along Interstate 81 at Exit 14 and the state’s Department of Transportation is asking drivers to be cautious.

All the crashes were attributed to driver errors, such as following too closely or failing to maintain proper control, according to the VSP.

This week marks VDOT’s Work Zone Awareness Week, a nationwide campaign held at the start of construction season to encourage safe driving through highway work zones.

“The majority of crashes occurring within work zones aren’t attributed to any problems with the actual work zone,” 1st Sgt. M.R. Willis of the VSP said in a news release. “By obeying the speed limit, giving space to those around you and minimizing distractions, drivers provide a safer environment for everyone.”

The first Work Zone Awareness Week was held 20 years ago in VDOT’s Bristol District, according to Michelle Earl, a department spokeswoman. It became a statewide event in 1998 and later became a nationwide event marked by almost every department of transportation in the country, she added.

“We take pride in being the district that started what is now a nationwide event dedicated to encouraging safe driving in work zones,” said Rob Griffith, construction engineer for the Bristol District. “We strive to provide the safest work zones possible for motorists as well as for construction workers, who work in one of the most dangerous professions in the U.S.”

In Abingdon, the I81 Exit 14 reconfiguration work zone is a prime example of how quickly and often a work zone can change and why it’s important to minimize distractions while driving through a work zone, Earl said.

“Many of the major changes that happen in the Exit 14 work zone occur during the overnight hours, so your afternoon commute may be very different from your commute the following morning,” said area construction engineer Robert Baker.

For two weeks this summer, the northbound Exit 14 off ramp will be closed and motorists will access the Exit 14 area by using Exit 13 and U.S. Highway 11. The closure of the off ramp is necessary to finish the connection between the new off ramp and the interstate, Earl said.

In addition, during the off ramp closure, the blue traveler information signs at Exit 14 will be temporarily moved to Exit 13 to help visitors find their destinations.

The Exit 14 project was awarded in late 2015 and work began in January 2016.

W-L Construction & Paving, of Chilhowie, received the $29 million contract, which includes replacement of the two interstate bridges over Route 647, also known as Old Jonesboro Road; separation of the northbound exit and entrance ramps; widening of Old Jonesboro Road; modification of Dennison Drive; and addition of signals at the ramp intersections, the release states. The project is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2018.

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