By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Though winter weather has complicated removal efforts, West Virginia Division of Highway officials are aiming to open both lanes of northbound traffic on I-77 in time for Easter weekend.
Northbound lanes of the interstate were closed at mile marker 3 in Bluefield on Wednesday, March 20 following a rock slide on the roadway. Tom Camden, district manager for the Division of Highway’s District 10, said DOH crews and crews with contractor Vecellio & Grogan, Inc., have been working steadily with the goal of reopening the highway in time for Easter traffic.
“Unfortunately, we do not have it open yet,” Camden said. “One thing we are very concerned about is the upcoming Easter weekend. The contractor has made great progress over the weekend, but we still don’t have a timeline on when we expect to open.”
Camden said winter weather has complicated efforts to remove the rocks from the roadway.
“They have come into a lot more rock and material than we initially anticipated,” he said. “We now have rain, sleet and snow to combat, as well as keeping U.S. Route 460 clean due to all the extra traffic there. There is a lot of clay in these rocks and when clay gets wet, it gets as slick as ice. The contractor has been dealing with that.”
Weather conditions have also made it unsafe for crews to do some work during the night, Camden said.
“They aren’t working as much at night due to the weather conditions,” Camden said. “However, we are still hauling away material at night since we can’t break up the rocks. It’s about 80 feet from the top of the slide to the roadway at least, so we don’t want the crews working at night on all that unstable ground. Safety is always our primary concern for contractors, employees and the traveling public.”
Massive loads of rocks have already been hauled away from the site, but Camden said there are many more still to go before the roadway is passable.
“We have a waste site not too far from the slide, so hauling the rocks away hasn’t been a problem,” Camden said. “This is one of those situations where everything is being done on an emergency basis. In another situation, we would be examining the rocks and doing cross-sections to further determine what had happened. However, this is an emergency. Right now, we are measuring the rocks by the truckload and are using those large articulating trucks to haul them away. As of late Friday, we had hauled away 149 truckloads. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was up to twice that much by the time we are through.”
In addition to clearing the interstate, Camden said the DOH has had to monitor road and traffic conditions more closely on U.S. Route 460, which has been serving as a detour for interstate traffic.
“Treating the southbound lanes of traffic has gone as normal as possible,” he said. “We have had to focus more of our efforts on 460 due to an increase in traffic. We are continuing to monitor traffic. When the traffic flow goes up we are doing manual flagging. When the traffic flow is smoother we have the flashing lights on. Friday night and Sunday night had especially heavy traffic. It isn’t as busy in the mornings, but it usually picks up as the day goes on.”
Until traffic on the interstate is moving again Camden said local motorists would be served best by avoiding the interchange at Exit 9 in Princeton.
“If people can avoid the U.S. 460 and I-77 interchange at Exit 9 in Princeton, I would recommend they do so,” Camden said. “It is especially advantageous for local people due to all of the traffic out there.”
— Contact Kate Coil at firstname.lastname@example.org