Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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November 20, 2012

Highway, law officials ready for holiday travellers

PRINCETON — Highway crews and law enforcement officials across the two Virginias are already making preparations to keep motorists safe and traffic flowing during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Tom Camden, district manager with the West Virginia Division of Highways District 10, said there shouldn’t be any construction projects in the way of motorists during the holiday weekend.

“We don’t have any major projects on I-77 or I-64 that would limit traffic,” Camden said. “We also try to make sure our contractors aren’t working this time of year anyway. We caution people to use common sense. It is better to get there late than to not get there at all. As far as through traffic, I-77 is probably our most traveled road.”

In addition to primary routes like I-77, Camden said the DOH is expecting to see heavy traffic on many of the regions secondary routes.

“When we talk about holiday traffic, most people are thinking about major roads like I-77, but most of us when we do travel do end up on some of the secondary roads as well,” Camden said. “We also see a lot of traffic on U.S. 460 and Route 52 during the holiday. Once you get into certain areas, you can take 460 or 52 to get to your final destination.”

Camden said the DOH will be working during the weekend to clear any hazards on local roadways.

“In our case, the weather is usually the one variable we cannot predict,” Camden said. “From what I understand, we do have a very good forecast for the next few days. The next biggest issue we encounter are accidents, which have the potential of stopping traffic and backing it up for miles. We do have people on call throughout the weekend who work with local emergency responders, especially in cases where the roads must be closed.”

Michelle Earl, a spokesperson with the Virginia Department of Transportation, said the most traffic typically occurs in the Wytheville, Va., area.

“VDOT will be lifting most lane closures, unless they are on long-term projects,” Earl said. “We will begin doing that at noon on Wednesday and those will be returned Monday at noon. In our area the I-77, I-81 overlap does have high volumes of traffic that can slow or stop motorists through that eight-mile stretch. If people can alternate out their travel, such as leaving earlier on Wednesday, it could lessen the traffic. We know that people are sometimes limited on travel, but if people can be flexible we can decrease the traffic during some of the peak travel times. Our safety service patrols will also be out in the area.”  

Deborah Cox, a spokesperson with the Virginia State Police, said troopers will be monitoring major roadways like I-77 and I-81 from early Wednesday until late Sunday.

“As traffic is expected to increase for the Thanksgiving holiday week, motorists will also see extra patrols by Virginia State Police troopers on Virginia’s roadways,” she said. “Extra patrols will increase throughout the Commonwealth beginning Wednesday at 12:01 a.m. through midnight Sunday. The enhanced traffic enforcement efforts are part of Operation Combined Accident Reduction Effort (Operation CARE), which is intended to reduce crashes, fatalities and injuries caused by speeding, impaired driving and failure to use occupant restraints.”

Cox said the state police ask motorists to prepare ahead to make holiday travel safer for everyone.

“The Virginia State Police are advising motorists to prepare themselves and their vehicles for the road,” Cox said. “To help make sure your trip is safe and problem free, be sure to add extra time to reach your travel destination in case there are any travel delays on the road. Motorists should slow down and obey the posted speed limits, increase driving distances between their vehicle and the vehicle in front of them, and avoid distractions by buckling up and putting the cell phone down.

Cox said motorists should also inspect their vehicles before setting out.

“Before they set out, we ask motorists to fill up in advance of your trip in case you encounter any traffic delays,” she said. “Drivers should check all vehicle fluids and make sure their automatic transmission, power steering, and brake fluids are full. Also, check tire air pressure and make sure you have ample tire tread.”

If an accident does occur, Cox said motorists have time to get their vehicle towed.

“If a vehicle does begin experiencing problems, try to make it to the nearest exit,” Cox said. “If unable to, then pull off onto the shoulder or grass so as to put as much distance as possible between the vehicle and passing traffic. Motorists have 24 hours to remove their disabled vehicle from the unpaved portion of a roadway. Any vehicle abandoned on a paved shoulder is deemed a traffic hazard and will be towed at the owner’s expense.”

Cox said motorists in Virginia are also asked to remember the “Move Over” law if they encounter any emergency situation on the road.

“With the increase in emergency personnel presence, motorists are reminded to comply with Virginia’s ‘Move Over’ law, which requires drivers to change to another travel lane or, when not able to, to cautiously pass emergency personnel stopped on the side of the road,” Cox said. “In 2010, the law was amended to include highway maintenance vehicles and tow trucks equipped with flashing amber lights.”

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com

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