PRINCETON, W.Va. — West Virginia officials say they hope some new measures will make a dangerous section of Interstate 77 safer to travel.
The Bluefield Daily Telegraph reports West Virginia Parkways Authority said it would lower the speed limit from 70 to 60 by the end of April, increase patrols and check tractor-trailers’ equipment more often.
Parkway General Manager Greg Barr made the comments Monday during a ceremony in which a bridge was dedicated to two Parkways to the late Nathan Andrew Thompson of Princeton and his nephew, 21-year-old Richard Nathaniel Lambert of Kegley. Both men, who were West Virginia Parkways employees, lost their lives as a result of an August 16, 2018, crash near mile marker 23.
A third Parkways Authority employee, Ethan Kestner, 19, of Princeton survived the crash. He has been recovering from his injuries, Barr said.
There have been several fatal crashes between mile marker 20 and mile marker 27, a section of Interstate 77 that goes down Flat Top Mountain into Mercer County. Barr said that members of the Princeton Rescue and families of the people who lost their lives to crashes have talked to the West Virginia Parkways Authority about ways to make the highway safer.
During the authority’s last board meeting, its members looked at a speed study that was done and put forward a motion to lower the speed limit. The speed limit between mile marker 20 and mile marker 27 will be lowered from 70 mph to 60 mph, Barr said. This mandatory speed limit goes into effect by the end of April.
A more immediate measure is to make a greater effort to increase State Police patrols to enforce the speed limits, Barr stated. A second measure has been to hire an additional state Public Service Commission officer – there were previously just two – to review and check the equipment on tractor-trailers. More reflective warning signs called chevrons will be placed at the bottom of Flat Top Mountain near the 20 mile marker to give truck drivers more advanced notice to slow down for the curves they are approaching.
Barr said the authority is also looking at installing barriers in the highway’s median.
Putting a truck stop on top of Flat Top Mountain so truck drivers can check their equipment before heading down the mountain is another option being considered, Barr stated; however, the training of future truck drivers has been a cause of concern.
“The trucking industry is in large growth now and is growing faster than it can find drivers,” he said. “They’re trying to get laws passed to allow 18 year olds to drive across country; the age limit is 21 now.”
Barr said he just wants to make sure that truck driver training is thorough “to make sure drivers are ready before they turn them loose.” Technology helps, but technology also “puts those big screens on their (dashboards)” and creates more distractions while driving.
“We’re trying to look at this comprehensively and doing a lot of different things to make that highway as safe as we can,” Barr stated after the dedication service. Barr said officials are trying to take a comprehensive approach to making the roadway there as safe as possible.