Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 10, 2013

After turnpike accident, state police re-evaluate detour plans

By Mannix Porterfield
for the Daily Telegraph

BECKLEY — Hundreds of motorists found themselves trapped in a major snarl after a tractor-trailer accident last week on the West Virginia Turnpike, prompting Manager Greg Barr and State Police to take a long look at the emergency detour plan.

In fact, soon after the West Virginia Parkways Authority meeting Thursday in Beckley, the officials planned to examine the effectiveness of the plan in the wake of the Friday crash of a truck and passenger car near the Mabscott exit.

“Did it run smoothly and perfectly as we would like it?” asked State Police Capt. Barry Marcum, commander of Troop 7, assigned to the 88-mile toll road, then answered his question, “No.”

Given the time of day it occurred, however, in early afternoon, and the volume of traffic, the officer said he had personally received only two or three minor complaints from motorists wedged into long lines of traffic.

Noting that between 20,000 and 30,000 vehicles were shifted off the highway, the officer said, “I think that’s pretty good.”

“We’re really at the mercy of materials you’re dealing with,” he said.

Barr pointed out the concern was couched in the cargo — lithium, and the potential it has for going up like fireworks, or creating plumes of noxious gases that could have endangered motorists passing by the wreck scene.

Traffic was transferred over to U.S. 19, and while the detour was only 8 miles, it takes about three hours to get through, Barr pointed out.

“A lot of people were inconvenienced,” he told the road’s governing board.

“People’s patience was tried. And that’s understandable.”

Routinely, he acknowledged, the Turnpike examines how a detour works after such an emergency.

“We’re going to go over all the details of it, to see what we can do to make it better, what we can tweak,” he said.

Barr pointed out that every means of communicating the accident to motorists approaching the Turnpike was employed, including getting word out via Beckley radio stations.

“It’s amazing how quickly the traffic will back up on the Turnpike,” he said.

The driver of the truck and a passenger in the car involved in the smashup sustained only scratches, but the car’s driver had to be airlifted to a Charleston hospital.

Barr said a decision to use the detour came after officials assessed the accident, and the potential for the spread of hazardous materials..

“When you have hazardous materials, it’s a whole different ball game,” he said.

The Turnpike designed the detour scheme, known as the incident management plan, after a massive snowstorm paralyzed the Princeton-to-Charleston highway nearly four years ago, leaving hundreds of drivers stranded overnight