GHENT, W.Va. — Northbound traffic remained heavy Wednesday afternoon on the West Virginia Turnpike with most of the increase believed to be from Hurricane Florence evacuees from the Carolinas.
Things got much better northbound on the Turnpike (I-77) Wednesday morning when a contractor was able to reopen both lanes of a bridge that’s under construction just south of the Ghent Toll Plaza in Raleigh County. That project caused a 15-mile northbound back-up Tuesday night, Parkways Authority General Manager Greg Barr said.
“Getting the extra lane open makes a huge difference,” Barr said. “When you pinch things down to one lane it doesn’t take long to start backing up.”
The bridge deck replacement project near Ghent just started a few days ago and contractors were in the process of putting a new concrete deck down on one side of the bridge when the evacuations began. The Parkways Authority and state Department of Transportation worked with the contractor to cover that new concrete with a layer of asphalt in order to allow traffic to use both northbound lanes, Barr said.
“We’ll have both lanes open now through next Tuesday,” Barr said.
The contractor will eventually have to remove the asphalt, apply a coating before a more permanent resurfacing job is done.
Gov. Jim Justice ordered all I-77 north construction work cleared to help evacuees heading through West Virginia. Barr said the bridge situation was just bad timing.
“I feel bad because a lot of the travelers said ‘Why didn’t you plan for this? Why didn’t you make sure the road was open for us?’ We just couldn’t (do it quickly) with a bridge deck replacement project,” Barr said.
Tolls were lifted on the Turnpike at the Ghent plaza for a while Tuesday night into Wednesday morning to relieve the backup. They were back on Wednesday afternoon. Barr said there are currently no plans to stop charging tolls, although they will monitor the situation.
“If we see that we’re getting so much traffic that it’s backing up and the people are having to be stalled down and can’t go anywhere—then we’re going to consider it,” he said.
There was a backup of northbound traffic Wednesday afternoon at the toll plaza near Pax.