The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

June 10, 2013

'Skid test' planned on Turnpike where recent multiple accidents occurred

4-mile stretch around old Memorial Tunnel under scrutiny

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

— A special “skid test” is planned on a 4-mile stretch of the West Virginia Turnpike around the old Memorial Tunnel in an effort to solve the riddle of why so many truck wrecks occurred there in recent days.

If the test by the Division of Highways shows a flaw in that portion of the road, Manager Greg Barr says corrective measures will be taken.

“But we really think the issue there is going too fast for conditions,” Barr said Monday.

“The empty trailers tend to slip easier than the full ones. We have signs posted in all those curves, pictures of trucks tipping, lots of alerts. We already had slowed the speed limit years ago to 60.”

Absent any state troopers in that stretch of the time of an accident, Barr says it isn’t possible to say if truckers were speeding.

Obviously, he pointed out, the driver of a wrecked rig isn’t going to admit driving at an excessive speed.

“They’ll just say, ‘I don’t know what happened. I was obeying all the laws and the next thing I know, my truck flipped over,’” the manager said.

“Unless we happen to have a trooper sitting there with radar on at the time a guy starts to wreck, we’re not going to know.”

Barr said troopers plan to increase patrols in the area between Mileposts 74 and 78 to see if speed has been a factor, and what has been a mere warning likely will turn into some real speeding tickets. The Public Service Commission likewise will be conducting accelerated checks of truckers.

“We’re just trying to get to the bottom of it,” he said.

“I think it always happens when it’s raining. It appears to us that the truck drivers are driving too fast for conditions, losing control and rolling over.”

Accidents are occurring in both northbound and southbound lanes going down either side of the mountain there. The most recent accident occurred Sunday night, the first recent one that also involved a passenger car.

Barr said the DOH plans to employ a special piece of equipment it can use when the road is dry to ascertain if some alternations are in order.

“It will tell us if the curve is slicker than it is on the asphalt approaching the curve,” he said.

“This just indicates if the aggregate in the road surface is polished, and, if so, then we could grind it or mill it up and put down some new asphalt with skid-resistant material. This is just a test to let us know if that’s part of the problem or not.”

Last week, a rig climbed nearly to the top of the hill and crashed through a guardrail, he said. The cab became separated and rumbled 70 feet down an embankment.

The Turnpike recently completed a resurfacing of the climbing lane on the mountain but some drivers apparently forget they need to swing back over to a middle lane when that one runs out, the manager noted.

“People need to slow down and get proper spacing and drive according to road conditions,” Barr said.

“They need to pay attention to signs, drive defensively, anticipate the unexpected and just be aware when it starts raining. If the speed limit says 60, you probably should slow down to 50 until you get through the rain area.”

While some crashes have ended up on bridges, Barr said he suspects the accidents had their genesis before approaching the spans.

“They’re losing control coming out of another curve, or going too fast down the hill,” he said.

“And when they get to the bridge, they can’t negotiate the curve.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com