CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Governor Jim Justice says the state is doubling down on its efforts to make highway construction zones safer following several fatal wrecks along Interstate 64.
“We need to do more,” Justice said in a Wednesday news release.
Four people have died over the last few weeks due to crashes on a long work zone stretch between Putnam and Cabell counties.
“Our hearts go out to the families involved in these tragic accidents along the interstate,” Justice said. “I have instructed Secretary Smith and Colonel Cahill to immediately look at what steps they can take to make sure we are doing everything we possibly can to make our interstates and work zones safe for all motorists as well as those working on the job sites.”
The state Department of Transportation and West Virginia State Police are already working to address issues in the area. Message boards have been added to the Interstate. Additional troopers have also been called in to monitor the zone.
More steps could be taken pending a review of the project. That includes potentially lowering the speed limit in the zone.
Aaron Gillispie, state highways engineer with the state Division of Highways, said he gets word of an accident frequently.
“On my hip I have a cell phone that vibrates every time there’s an accident and it’s reported. It’s been my experience that we average, especially during rush hour, one every two days and sometimes two an evening, so we see a lot of accidents in the general area from Charleston all the way to Hurricane,” he said.
The cause of the accidents are being investigated by State Police. Maj. Dave Nelson said, so far, they have not seen any similiar situations.
“We’re looking at different criteria that was going on when the accidents happened — weather, lighting, time of day — at this juncture, there is not a common denominator,” Nelson said.
Nelson said troopers typically pull motorists over outside the work zone for safety reasons. He said it’s a dangerous situation to be in.
“It’s difficult for the motoring public. It’s difficult for the members making the traffic stop. It’s very dangerous, so what we try to do, if at all possible, we try to refrain from making the stop in the work zone — either prior to the work zone or after the work zone,” he said.
The review will also determine if more troopers should be added to work zones, Nelson said.
The project includes 12 miles of reconstruction between Milton and Teays Valley on I-64. It’s expected to be complete in three phases.
Patching potholes will occur between now and May 14. That’s when the second phase of construction is expected to begin.
The project is part of the governor’s Roads to Prosperity bond initiative which was designed to improve West Virginia’s major roads and highways.
While the DOH reminds drivers to “Just Slow Down” in work zones, Gillispie said it’s important to remember the DOH employees that work in these dangerous conditions. He advises people to put down their phones and pay attention to the road.
“Just remember there are people in those work zones. If you associate that there are actual people there, I think it changes your mindset going through there. It’s not an orange barrel, but there’s somebody behind that orange barrel that also has a family and wants to go home safely. That’s my advice,” he said.