MAHAN, W.Va. — The north-south traffic flowing through southern West Virginia was back to where it belongs Friday with the reopening of the West Virginia Turnpike following a long closure Thursday in Fayette County.
Roads south of U.S. Route 60 felt the brunt of the 18-hour shutdown that occurred after a truck–that was carrying a hazardous material–crashed on the Skitter Creek Bridge forced the closure of all four lanes. The driver has been charged with DUI.
West Virginia Parkways Authority Executive Director Jeff Miller said the volume of traffic on the Turnpike becomes quickly apparent during those rare instances when the artery is closed.
“It’s 100,000 cars just on an average day and this was a late-August Thursday so we were up a little bit on normal travel,” Miller told MetroNews Friday.
The crash occurred in the worse possible place when it comes to Turnpike detours. Miller said Detour A is the toll road’s longest which urges motorists, especially truckers, to use Interstate 79 and and U.S. Route 19 to travel between Charleston and Beckley.
Thousands of motorists, including many tractor trailer drivers, tried to find other ways to reach their destinations. There was bumper to bumper traffic on U.S. Route 60 and state Route 61. U.S. 19 was also slowed near the highway’s traffic lights in Nicholas and Fayette counties because of traffic volume.
Miller said highway officials don’t take the decision to close the Turnpike lightly.
“The unfortunate part of all of this is where the wreck occurred. We do apologize for that but these things do happen,” Miller said. “We respond as quickly as we can. We were very thankful we were able to get it open. It took 18 hours total and we expected it was going to be a daylong event, if not even longer.”
There will have to be repairs made to the median wall near the Skitter Creek Bridge after the truck slammed into it before overturning at around 12:30 a.m. Thursday.
“We’ll go in and do that through routine maintenance and we’ll do that during an hour when traffic volumes are low,” Miller said.
There will also be a full review of the response to the crash, according to Miller.
“We’ll put together a post-action review plan and incident report as well as the state troopers investigation and report,” Miller said. “Any wreck, doesn’t matter what size, our safety department goes in and does that every time and we look to see if there are things we can improve upon.”
Miller credits the Pax Volunteer Fire Department, state DEP, DOT, DOH, the Kanawha County Homeland Security Office, Fayette County 911 Center, Evergreen Environmental and Clean Harbors Environmental for their roles in the response and cleanup. He said hundreds of people were involved.
The driver of the wrecked vehicle, Dennis Eugene West, 54, of Moncks Corner, South Carolina, is charged with DUI. State police troopers measured West’s blood alcohol content at .128 which is above the legal limit.
There’s also a fish kill in connection with the material leaking into Skitter Creek. Biologists with the state DNR were in the water Friday morning evaluating the extent of the kill.