The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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November 22, 2012

Turnpike braces for holiday traffic

If getting to grandma’s house for a Thanksgiving repast with all the trimmings, and cutting through the woods means a detour across the West Virginia Turnpike, the best advice is to prepare for a long ride.

Provided, that is, you’re traveling at the start of the long, four-day weekend.

Sandwiched around Thanksgiving itself, Wednesday and Sunday are the heaviest travel days, especially the final day of the holiday period.

“We try to alert people to schedule their travel so they travel over the Turnpike either before 10 or 11 o’clock in the morning on Sunday, or after 5 or 6 in the evening, if they want to avoid some congestion,” Turnpike Manager Greg Barr said Wednesday.

“Sometimes, that’s hard to do. The best time to travel would be Monday or Saturday and avoid Sunday altogether. Lots of times people don’t have a choice. I know I never did. Kids get out of school and you have to wait until they get home Wednesday before you can go anywhere, or you’ve got a job and you have to work and can’t leave until you get off work.”

Many need to be back on the job by Monday, and others simply want to hang out with relatives as long as possible so they put off the return drive until Sunday.

“That’s OK,” Barr said.

“But just for people to know, it will be busy, not only on the Turnpike, but on roads everywhere across the country, Sunday especially.”

When the Fourth of July or Christmas or New Year’s fall on a Friday or Monday, the Turnpike sees a huge volume of traffic, but since Thanksgiving is permanently set on the fourth Thursday, that means an extended travel, the Turnpike manager noted.

All tollgates will be open at the three plazas and fully manned.

“We’ll have extra lane walkers so we never have to even close a lane for a few minutes for somebody who has to go to the bathroom,” Barr said.

“If somebody needs a break, the lane walker is right there and steps into the booth while the other person steps out. We keep processing traffic. We’re going to have extra maintenance workers out there to help any people that have breakdowns or need assistance so we can keep traffic moving along the highway.”

If needed, the tandem booths will swing into service at times when lines are backed up at the plazas.

“In the past, what’s normally happened is tandems don’t really have to be used until Sunday,” Barr said.

“And the reason is the compression of traffic on Wednesday. People are leaving at different times of that day and it’s spread out a little better. But on Sunday, everybody is coming back, so at some point in time, they all meet on the Turnpike at the same time.”

Extra units of the Courtesy Patrol will be in force on the two busy days of the holiday, and maintenance personnel will be on hand to complement their efforts. Besides that, Troop 7 of the State Police, which blankets the Princeton-to-Charleston toll road, will patrol to assure that travelers are taken care of and that none jeopardize others by breaking traffic laws.

“We’ve got a real good relationship with the wrecker services around the Turnpike,” Barr said.

“With our focus on that new incident management plan and the speed of efforts to get a lane opened as soon as possible, we really get a lot of support from the local wrecker services and fire departments. If something does happen, we have a lot of people on it in a hurry.”

At times, tractor-trailers jackknife, blocking one lane, or even both, so the immediate goal is to drag the huge rig off to the side of the road so traffic can resume.

“We can always come back later and unload the trailer and do what we have to do on the side of the road and there is no hold-up to traffic,” the Turnpike manager said.

This week witnessed an Indian summer-like atmosphere, with temperatures hugging the 60-degree mark under sharp, blue skies, and that, Barr said, is a major factor, since the weather isn’t likely to cause any heartburn, as far as snow and ice are concerned.

“Even rain,” he said.

“You know how it is. It seems like every time it rains, there are more wrecks and not just on the Turnpike. There’s just something about human nature and the rain. All of a sudden you’ve got wrecks. People just don’t slow down for road conditions, for whatever reason. So, rain is not a good thing either for travel.”

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