By Mannix Porterfield
Tons of heavy, dense snow smothered the Beckley area last week, prompting a response by the West Virginia Turnpike maintenance team that earned praise from Manager Greg Barr.
“That was scary times,” Barr told the toll road’s governing board, the Parkways Authority, in Thursday’s monthly meeting at Tamarack.
“Snow was near whiteout conditions on Ghent Mountain and Camp Creek Mountain, most of the night and into the next day at the height of the blizzard. It was a battle to keep the road open.”
In excess of 2 feet pounded the region, paralyzing traffic in and around Beckley, but crews kept traffic flowing on the Princeton-to-Charleston toll road.
“This is just a tribute to a job done exceptionally well by the maintenance division,” the manager said.
Maintenance director Ron Hamilton said the major problem was the blanket of slush that remained on the roadway, luring some motorists into a false sense of security by making them think one could maintain normal speeds.
“We don’t have a good solution for that,” he said. “That’s when we have the wrecks.”
In one crash near Beckley, a car overturned and trapped some children with the driver, but there were no serious injuries, he said.
The Turnpike coped with a crippling snowstorm in December 2009, stalling traffic and keeping hundreds of commuters marooned overnight. Since then, the Turnpike has installed some major emergency devices, such as turnaround so traffic can head backwards, and setting up detour routes when motorists are forced to leave.
“It’s going to take some extraordinary storm to keep us from reaching the level we did in the last storm,” Hamilton said of the quick recovery last week.
“We really had no problems.”
Barr disclosed that the Turnpike received $232,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover the overtime and fuel in the response to the June 29 derecho and will seek additional funding, if possible, for the costs incurred battling the recent snowstorm.
Meantime, Barr said the Turnpike is taking steps to beef up its incident management plan, an offshoot of the 2009 snow blitz, and already has gone through a two-day internal session with staff and the State Police.
For the strategy session, he said, the maintenance division created huge maps of each section of the road covering potential scenarios with six- to eight-man teams assigned to apply plans in particular crisis locations.
“It was very successful,” Barr said.
“I was impressed how our guys really focused and were creative and able to draw plans to make it work. These things also bring up questions. We continue to tweak the plan a little bit. It’s definitely a work in progress and always will be.”
In other matters, the Parkways Authority allowed the purchase of 10 new crew cabs from Matheny Motors in Parkersburg for $268,300.92, and a cab and chassis with utility bed, a Ford Taurus sedan, and Ford Explorer SUV for $117,099.40 from Stephens Auto in Danville.
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