The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 20, 2012

Black and white signs raise red flags in Monroe

By Tina Alvey
Register-Herald Reporter

— Those distinctive black and white signs that have sprung up along U.S. 219 in Greenbrier and Monroe counties, proclaiming the road a “WV Turnpike Emergency Detour,” have raised red flags for at least one 911 director.

Tim Wilson, director of the Monroe County 911 Center, expressed his concerns to the county commission during a meeting last week.

Saying he had attended a Parkways Authority meeting at Tamarack six weeks earlier, Wilson told the county’s governing body that he discovered that a new weather emergency plan adopted by Parkways has the potential to dump thousands of vehicles onto Monroe’s narrow, curvy two-lane roads.

Wilson’s reference was to what is described on the Parkways Authority’s website as “Detour E,” a 112-mile alternative route that will take motorists who would otherwise travel the Turnpike (I-77) between Beckley and Princeton onto I-64 and thence to U.S. 219 and on to U.S. 460. The engineering report describes the drive time to traverse those 112 miles as 2 hours and 5 minutes.

The alternate route is to be pressed into service in the event of an I-77 closure between exits 28 and 9.

Among the local obligations the plan anticipates are county and municipal officers controlling traffic flow through intersections, re-timing traffic signals to facilitate flow on the alternate route, suspension of road work and possible implementation and/or enforcement of stringent parking restrictions along the route.

Wilson advised the county commissioners, “Anything happens between Princeton and Ghent that stops traffic both ways for (at least) two hours, they will route all north-south traffic through Lewisburg and right onto 219.”

He said he received no advance notice that Route 219 was under consideration as an alternate route.

“I didn’t even know anything about it until I saw the signs,” Wilson said, confirming with the commissioners that no input was requested from Monroe County before the route had already been designated.

He said his main fear is that truckers who are not used to West Virginia’s winding roads will be driving oversized tractor-trailers through Monroe County.

“I’m thinking about what happens if a trucker who ordinarily never leaves the four-lane has to negotiate an S-turn and meets another big rig heading the other way,” Wilson said. “And what if they close the Turnpike in the middle of the night when the weather’s bad? Traffic could be backed up from here (Union) to Lewisburg.”

Commission President Shane Ashley recommended Wilson confer with Sheriff Mike Gravely and assess the county’s potential “bottlenecks” and trouble spots and come back to the commissioners with recommendations for ways to address the anticipated problems.

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com