CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Traveling the I-79 corridor through Harrison County has been a commuter’s worst nightmare since April 10. An ambitious construction project, drivers failing to follow instructions in high traffic zones, and at least two vehicle accidents have led to miles of slow-moving traffic for hours at a time.
“A lot of traffic and a lot of people not really understanding where they are supposed to be navigating towards,” said Clarksburg resident Skyler Drago, who commutes to her job in south Fairmont during weekdays. “There’s a lot of confusion about what lanes are open and what lanes are closed.”
She said it has begun to improve during her afternoon south-bound commute home on I-79, but feels fortunate she hasn’t lived the traffic horror stories she’s heard from friends and family.
“The first time when the traffic first started to pick up, it was really, really bad because of the fact the way the lanes were closed down,” she said. “There was one open lane in the middle, but there were two closed around it. It was very confusing.”
“These projects are necessary, and we need to do them for a reason,” state Department of Transportation spokesperson Carrie Jones told “The Gary Bowden Show” on Thursday.
“And, yes everybody, it’s an inconvenience. People gripe about it, but you also gripe about the potholes. It’s kind of a damned if you do damned if you don’t situation.”
On April 10, the WVDOT began revitalizing six bridges in both the north and south bound lanes of I-79.
“It’s something that we’ve needed for decades,” Jones said. “We’ve been working with the same budget that we had 20 years ago. Everyone knows with your basic economic class, you need to build in extra bank for inflation and things like that. The price of material has changed, and we need to adjust to that.”
The construction follows about a 10-mile stretch from just south of the mile marker 119 interchange in Bridgeport to mile marker 109 south of Lost Creek.
“We are in the process of rehabilitating six different bridges,” Jones said. “There are two in the north bound lanes and four in the south bound lanes that are being rehabbed.”
Amidst criticism from the public and local media over traffic delays, Jones said the DOH was continuing to review the process every day to see how they could more efficiently manage traffic in the construction zone.
“People don’t realize that we have to take advantage of the weather,” she said. “Asphalt plants close in the winter time. We have to take advantage of that and put the asphalt down in the spring and summer months.
“There’s no doubt it’s an inconvenience, but … it is spring summer maintenance season and it’s construction season for us.”
Drago said when the construction began on April 10, it wasn’t much of an issue for her morning commute since she’s usually at work before morning rush hour begins. But on the way home, it was another story completely.
“It says that the left lane is closed, but little do you know it’s two left lanes,” she said. “Then everybody starts merging over at the last minute. You always have those people that want to push it as far as they can get to the front of the line and then they kind of mess it up for everyone else.”
“People were merging from the right and the left and into the middle,” she said. “It was kind of chaotic.”
Motorists have criticized the timing of construction being done mostly during daylight hours, but Jones said the timing is more efficient.
“If we do it at night, there’s a potential to get an inferior product because we’d have to work a lot quicker and actually use a different type of the latex overlay product,” she said. “It would take twice as long, and it could potentially cost more.”
Construction is expected to continue until September.