Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 1, 2013

Commutes can be crazy, dangerous on the Highway That Time Forgot


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— It is a weekday morning and, as usual, I’m running 10 minutes late. I’ve spent the early a.m. hours scurrying about the house like a mad woman. The coffee is perking while I steam clothes. I gulp down a Claritan while catching two minutes of CNN’s Headline News.

While the dogs go outside for their morning routine, I stand at the backdoor and read the A-1 lineup on my iPad, then check our Facebook page for reader feedback. Heading upstairs to my dressing room, I pull up my Twitter feed to see what is going on in the two Virginias.

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I manage to apply mascara while simultaneously flat ironing my hair. Perfecting this combo is an art typically achieved only by those who run perpetually late. I am one of those offenders. And I have mastered the over-slept, early morning routine.

Finally dressed, I head out the door while gulping hot coffee from the travel mug. My tongue stings from the burning java, but the caffeine jolt is worth the pain. In minutes, I am out of my driveway and off the country road that meanders through my rural community.

Taking a right turn onto Lorton Lick Road, I prepare myself for the commute ahead.

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Thirty-five, 30, 27, 31. The speed limit is 40 mph, but the driver ahead of me cannot commit to the recommended speed limit. Instead, he persists in driving at least 5 to 10 miles slower. I try to practice patience, but it is an exercise in futility.

Nearing the intersection at Lorton Lick Road and Route 52, the signal light is green. But the driver ahead of me must be color blind. He slows to 20, 15 and 10 mph. Still, the light registers a beautiful green. He ignores it. Slamming on the brakes, he’s suddenly going 4 mph, then 2. Finally, the light changes from green to yellow.

He hits the brakes hard, as do the cars behind him.

Strange. I must have missed the part in the driver’s handbook that stated one must slow for a green light and wait for it to turn yellow to stop.

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It’s the first of the month and a holiday. Traffic in Bluewell is crazy. Motorists are going at least 10 miles below the posted speed limit and beer trucks are backed in at convenience stores waiting to be unloaded.

As a commuter who passes through this small town to and from work, I am frustrated. Driving a mile feels like forever.

Approaching the local breakfast hub, I decrease my speed even more. I know there is a good chance one of the patrons will pull onto Route 52 in the path of my car. It happens frequently. The drivers’ vision is blocked by cars parked in front of the restaurant or they simply don’t look when accelerating onto the main road. It’s a quirk I don’t understand. Seems like I do remember a passage in my old learner’s permit manual about looking left and right.

On this morning, I breath a sigh of relief when I don’t have a close call at the intersection of fresh-baked biscuits and The Highway That Time Forgot. However, a driver across the road on a residential street uses my temporary slowdown as an excuse to punch it and enter the flow of traffic.

I watch as the vehicle speeds through Bluewell — well, as quickly as one can speed through this community when traffic is heavy — before making a quick turn into the parking lot of a business. Looking at the sign, I wonder what spurs an early morning pawn shop emergency.

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Leaving Bluewell I enter the greater Brushfork area — otherwise known as the land where drivers love to ride their brakes. A steady rate of speed seems to be an impossibility on this section of road as motorists tap, tap, tap their way down the hill to the old waterslide.

Speed is increased when accelerating up the next hill, but once they hit the top the brake lights once again begin blinking like a flashing strand of Christmas tree lights.

As frustrating as this is, it’s only a precursor to the really dangerous spot on Route 52 — the red light at the intersection of Route 123.

En route to work, I dodge cars that swoop in front of me to enter Falls Mills Road and slow for those punching the gas as they pull onto 52 from 123. As bad as this is, the drive home is even worse. With no turn arrow to allow motorists to pull onto Airport Road, many become frustrated and take crazy chances. Crashes are a frequent sight at this intersection, and pieces of broken tail lights litter the roadside.

For those who make it through the red light without having to call 911, a passing lane awaits — but I wouldn’t advise trying to use it. Chances are you will get behind a motorist who thinks he wants to pass, but is too timid to actually accelerate. By the time you reach the top of the hill, it’s back into the slow lane and the line of traffic.

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There are many reasons why the completion of the King Coal Highway from Bluefield to McDowell County is vitally important to the people of this region. My morning commute is just one.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.