A major southbound interstate reopened Friday morning after a Thursday snowstorm forced the closure of the roadway stranding thousands of motorists.
The decision to close Interstate 77 south in Virginia impacted southbound traffic in West Virginia. Hundreds of southbound motorists spent an unexpected night in Princeton.
“It was completely full, their hotels, their parking lots, the Walmart parking lot, it was just a mess at mile marker 9,” according to West Virginia DOH spokesman Brent Walker.
The snowstorm created hazardous driving conditions between the East River Mountain and Big Walker tunnels in Virginia and transportation officials there decided to close the road so they could begin clearing the stalled traffic.
“They had to have emergency vehicles and tow trucks one by one pull these trucks up the hill and off the roadway so it could be treated in Virginia,” Walker said.
West Virginia DOT officials decided to clear the nine-mile section of Interstate 77 between Princeton and Bluefield because they didn’t want motorists spending the night stopped on the interstate.
“We had to go in there and wake up the (tractor trailer) drivers and ask them to move their vehicles so we could get the smaller vehicles off the roadways,” Walker said.
Virginia opened I-77 southbound at around 9:30 Friday morning and West Virginia corresponded by allowing traffic south past the Princeton exit.
“So there is still a lot of congestion there but people are now moving,” Walker said shortly after the road reopened.
Thursday’s snow hit just a handful of West Virginia counties. The National Weather Service says parts of Mercer, Monroe and Summers counties had more than 10 inches. McDowell County had up to six inches.
9:30 a.m. Friday: The Virginia Dept. of Transportation reopened Interstate 77 southbound between the East River Mountain and Big Walker tunnels following a long night and early morning of clearing dozens of tractor-trailers from the snow-covered highway.
The reopening allows for traffic in West Virginia to continue southbound from the Princeton exit. Motorists were being diverted to Route 460.
The West Virginia DOT says motorists can expect backups as they head toward the state line at Bluefield because of the volume of traffic now attempting to head south.
Update from West Virginia DOT:
I-77 South remains shutdown in Virginia. The WV Parkways Authority is forcing all southbound traffic to exit the interstate at the Princeton Exit (Exit 9). Turnpike and DOH crews will be monitoring traffic during the morning commute. If any backups occur, they may start diverting traffic at the Camp Creek Exit (Exit 20).
Drivers are encouraged to delay their travels until VDOT is able to reopen I-77.
Overnight, crews were able to turn around travelers and tractor trailers that were caught in traffic on the WV side.
Snowy weather on I-77 in neighboring Virginia is causing major traffic backups today.
Virginia Department of Transportation officials said a number of tractor trailers have been unable to get up the mountain on I-77 southbound. It has resulted in the closure of the southbound lanes between Bluefield and Wytheville, Va., overnight.
Snowplows and wreckers have been working to get those trucks up the mountain throughout the night. Officials expect to have the road reopened later this morning.