By Mannix Porterfield
For a week or so, the Beckley area just might resemble the bumper-to-bumper crawl of traffic in a major metropolis and the West Virginia Turnpike is taking steps now in an effort to keep travelers moving in and out of the Boy Scouts complex for a Jamboree in July.
That’s not all, however.
As the Turnpike’s maintenance director, Jim Meadows, pointed out Thursday, the influx of visitors passing through Beckley will also rise dramatically with the annual Friends of Coal Auto Fair at the soccer complex.
Even before the Jamboree opens at the Summit Bechtel Family Reserve in Fayette County, he said some 20,000 staff members are expected to filter in before the 10-day event set to run July 15-24.
“We’re expecting a bus every 35 seconds at our tollbooths,” Meadows said.
Depending on the popularity of the entertainment, he said, this means another 50,000 on top of the number already gathered at the complex. What’s more, the Scouts themselves will be fanning out in the region for a series of community service projects.
“For that 10 days, there’s going to be a lot of traffic in Beckley and on the Turnpike,” Meadows told the West Virginia Parkways Authority in a special meeting.
“We’re planning to split-shift our maintenance guys in Beckley — we have 21 in all — from 7 a.m. until midnight, flagging traffic. We anticipate U.S. 19 backing up onto the Turnpike. We don’t think the road there can handle the volume. We anticipate it coming back on us. We want to be able to flag so there’s no rear-enders on the Turnpike with people sitting, trying to get off the exit.”
As another precaution, Meadows said the Turnpike will not engage in any construction that requires a permanent lane closure for the 10 days of the Jamboree.
“When we get out past Beckley, we will do some temporary closures and try to keep our guys working as much as we can,” Meadows said.
“It’s going to be a huge impact. To add to that, on that Saturday, we have the Friends of Coal car show on the soccer field, which is going to bring in another 50,000. We haven’t see anything like this, traffic-wise.”
Asked by Turnpike Manager Greg Barr, the governor’s representative on the board, Jason Pizatella, said plans are being drawn up to involve the use of the West Virginia National Guard for traffic assistance.
“If we have one bus per minute, we can deal with that,” Barr said.
“It’s those concert days and stadium days they’re talking about that could be a problem.”
There also is the prospect that routine tolls could be waived, depending on the volume of traffic and how much is stalled, if cars are backed up and the right lane is idle and only the other lanes are open, Meadows noted.
“It’s going to take a lot of coordination and people on their toes to make this thing go without a glitch,” he added.
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