The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Editorials

February 12, 2014

Finally

As W.Va. 3 reopens, DOH should see a lesson learned

The shouts of Hallelujah! you might have heard early Tuesday evening came from the folks in western Raleigh County who have been going out of their way, literally, for weeks in order to get wherever they need to go.

On Dec. 27, ginormous boulders — one of them weighing more than     3,000 tons —  broke off of the mountainside, blocking heavily traveled W.Va. 3, nearly the only road connecting Whitesville to Beckley.

The only silver lining in this black as coal nightmare was that no one was injured or killed when the thousands of pounds of sandstone tumbled off the mountain and onto the highway. We cannot imagine anyone surviving being hit by that house-sized rock.

As the lives of the residents of Sundial, Marsh Fork, Naoma and other myriad communities along Rt. 3 return to normal, we suspect that after a time, the rockslide will be a distant memory, maybe something to tell the grandkids one day.

But we would encourage the Division of Highways not to put the site of the big rock to far out of their minds. With the crazy kind of winter it has been, they could have more, many more, such scenarios on their hands.

In just the past week or so, giant boulders have fallen I-77 near Mahan and I-79 north of Charleston. Again, we were lucky — no injuries were recorded in either mishap.

While Rt. 3’s closure for so long was a major inconvenience, we are happy that the necessary time was taken to do the job right, not just clearing the road and moving on. The hillside from which the boulders fell was assessed and stabilized so that additional rocks wouldn’t fall.

But we’ve all driven the roads around West Virginia. Rocks overhanging the highway are the norm rather than the exception. It’s cliché, but isn’t a ounce of prevention worth pound of cure?

Rain, snow, freeze, thaw. That cycle is one of the biggest factors in destabilizing such areas. You just don’t know which of those cycles is going to the deciding factor that brings the boulders crashing down onto the road.

Do you think that our luck will run out one of these days and there will be casualties from a slide? We do.

It may be just as prudent, and perhaps as cost effective as well, to fix some of the overhangs before they come tumbling down on their own.

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