Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 25, 2013

Crews battle to re-open I-77

By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Since Wednesday morning, personnel with the state Division of Highways as well as contract personnel with Vecellio & Grogan have been battling the elements to clear a huge slide from the northbound lanes of I-77 at the 3.5-mile marker.

“The minute that we can safely open this road back up, we will do it,” Joel Dillon, traffic engineer with Division 10 of the DOH said. “We’ve been out here day and night ever since it happened. If I had to make a guess, I would say it might be re-opened sometime (today),” he said.

“One thing that I will say is that it won’t be re-opened until it’s absolutely safe to travel on the highway there,” Dillon said. “The minute we can open it up, we will.”

The rain, ice-rain, sleet and snow that hit the region Sunday caused northbound traffic at the East River Mountain Tunnel (dedicated to the memory of H. Edward Steele) to be backed up to Rocky Gap, Va., according to a Virginia State Police dispatcher in Wytheville, Va. The weather was a factor in several wrecks in Wythe County, Va., where about 3 inches of snow had fallen by noon on Sunday.

The southbound lanes of I-77 were no better. Senior Trooper S.R. Moore of the Princeton Detachment of the West Virginia State Police said troopers had responded to several wrecks on I-77 in Mercer County.

“We had one vehicle that tore off a bumper, a couple that slid into the median and one that smashed into the guardrail,” Moore said.

Dillon said the weather has been a factor in the work, but DOH and contract crews haven’t stopped. “We’re here 24 hours a day,” he said.

Crews are hauling some of the rocks from the slip to what Dillon called “a way site” near the Ingleside northbound on-ramp. Snow plows cleared ice and snow from the closed section so the road can be traveled as soon as it can be opened. Dillon said that this is the worst rock slide he has seen in 30 years. Most of the time, his job isn’t a high-profile job.

“I’ve been interviewed by a few TV stations,” he said. He added that he was not aware that the slide was mentioned on NBC’s “Today Show” on Friday morning. “I’ve been getting home late at night and back here early in the morning. I haven’t been watching too much television.”

Dillon said that he hopes the work will be a permanent solution to the problem. “We’re trying to get it all the way down to the rock,” he said. “I’m really proud of the DOH workers and the Vecellio workers who have worked so hard to get this road opened again. Vecillio put up lights so they could keep working through the night.”

Dillon said that the section of interstate was opened about 48 years ago and that it is one of the oldest sections in the area. The northbound lanes of I-77 have been closed from Exit 1 to Exit 9 since Wednesday morning when the earth moved. Northbound traffic has been detoured on U.S. Route 460 since the slide blocked the interstate.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com