By Mannix Porterfield
Those big wheels kept right on rolling through the night and into Tuesday afternoon on the West Virginia Turnpike, showing no sign of shying from an avalanche of snow and high winds.
Passenger cars were another matter. Fewer of them than normal braved the one-two punch of Hurricane Sandy’s snow and furious winds.
“We came out intact,” Turnpike Manager Greg Barr said.
“It got pretty severe down around Camp Creek near Winterplace as we thought. Around 8 p.m., there were near whiteout conditions, with heavy snow falling, but we kept ahead of it. Overall, considering the relentless moisture, rain and snow and sleet, we were very successful in keeping the road open and keeping people safe.”
Snow poured down furiously during the night, but Barr said he kept crews working in 12-hour shifts, while one manager put in 24 hours straight.
All travel plazas managed to stay open. Gas stations pumped fuel as usual. Restaurants served hot food.
“We did lose power at the Morton Travel Plaza when a tree fell and took out some power lines, but we have a backup generator, so it didn’t really affect our operation,” Barr said.
As the storm worsened during the night, Barr imposed a 50-mile-per hour speed limit, but at least two motorists didn’t get the message.
At one spot on the Princeton-to-Charleston toll road, a passenger car was doing 60, while a tractor-trailer was clocked at 80 mph.
Barr said the huge rig hit some slush and appeared momentarily as if it would veer out of control, but stayed in its lane. However, the truck flung slush all over the car’s windshield, temporarily blinding the driver. Fortunately, no accident occurred, he noted.
“I think people get a false sense of security when they see the road’s been plowed and think, ‘I can go the speed limit.’ That’s not the best idea when the road is still wet and slushy in spots to be going the normal speed,” Barr said.
“I think they’ve got the impression that they’ve got 18 wheels on the ground and can go faster. It doesn’t work that way all the time. When they slide into a ditch, they’re so long they’re blocking part of the road most of the time and that delays everybody.” One tractor-trailer did jackknife and temporarily closed a lane.
“We got it out pretty quick,” Barr said. “And we had one car that flipped over on its top.”
Despite a few minor crashes, there were no injuries reported.
Barr said the 50 mph caution was posted as a reminder that West Virginia remains under a blizzard watch. “With winds gusting, it could blow snow into the roadway,” he said.
“We just want people to not drive like it’s the middle of summer. You drive according to the elements. So take it easy. There might be salt trucks out there working. They don’t go real fast. And there might be people pulled over, needing help.”
The 88-mile highway will remain under winter alert until the storm breaks around the end of the week.
“We want people to be safe and take it easy out there,” Barr said.
“We’re dealing with unusual circumstances with this blizzard.”
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