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Retired trooper calls for safety upgrades

Dear Gov. Justice,

This correspondence relates to a matter of life and death on US Route 33/Allegheny Mountain, Pendleton County. Since 1979, throughout my career in the West Virginia State Police and now beyond, I have asked many governors and many DOH personnel to please address this mountain.

I have witnessed several deaths on that 10% grade. They have included truckers trying to make a living and they included at least one innocent vacationer driving up the mountain, only to be crushed by a runaway truck descending the mountain, hugging the wrong side of a blind curve in an effort to save himself. He lived and the innocent person died. All because the West Virginia Division of Highways continues to refuse to spend worthwhile funds on this stretch of highway.

Why is human life not worth the $17 million pledged to the voters prior to our vote on the road bonds? We were promised realignment of the highway and installation of the ramp. How can that be moral and legal to do this?

In Mr. Rossi’s report to the Pendleton County Commission, I learned that he advised that the bulk of the $17 million would be sent back to Charleston for reallocation and not be used on Allegheny Mountain and likely not anywhere in Pendleton County. That is a very misleading way to have gotten our vote. That is akin to the old sales job of “bait and switch.”

That stretch of US 33 is going to continue to witness heavy truck traffic despite Corridor H, even once completed. Talk to the drivers and the companies. In addition to heavy local truck traffic going to Greer Limestone in Riverton, the truckers going from central WV to Richmond and the Tidewater area of Virginia will use US 33 because the trucking companies pay (and direct) truckers via the shortest mileage. And, that is US 33. The access points to Corridor H for southern route drivers is located too far north and too many additional miles. So, continued safety improvements to US 33 are imperative.

I have attached this week’s reporting from The Pendleton Times which reveals that WV DOH has now planned to scrap the $17 Million project and spend a mere $600,000 to $700,000 on TL-5 barriers.

Everyone I speak with that knows about highways, actions of runaway trucks, etc., are confident this will result in one of two actions. Truckers will still try to ride the inside of the blind curve (wrong lane) in hopes of making it down the mountain without damages, or they will hit the TL-5 wall in the sharp curve and bounce off of it and into the oncoming lane, killing additional people (could it be a busload bound for the ski resorts or the Elkins train ride)?

If they make it around this curve, then they will wreck in “Horseshoe Curve” farther down the mountain. And, all who crash at “Horseshoe Curve” cross the oncoming lane of traffic, placing opposing traffic in peril. Again, it is just a matter of time until additional innocent people die.

Several years ago, WV DOH reportedly purchased the right of way to correct the sharp curve known as Dead Woman’s Curve. The stated intent and “promise” was to correct sight alignment, construct a climbing lane extension and allow room for the “Catch-Net” containment and stopping system. It is similar to the technology used for years on aircraft carriers in stopping fighter jets, etc.

Mr. Rossi reported that WV DOH was abandoning the use of the net arrestor system due to a failure out west. I had originally suggested this system to WV DOH when I first heard of its use in Wyoming several years ago. Addressing the failure, today I spoke with the representative of the manufacturer, Impact Absorption. Their rep, Mr. Michael Kempen, advised me that the issue involved the practice of runaway truck drivers steering into the concrete walls of the systems in an effort to scrub-away energy. In doing so, they were damaging the anchor points and other devices that make the system work. Since that time, they have spent considerable time and money, working with Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) in redesigning their product. The new design includes “bump-outs” in the concrete walls. This protects the anchor points and other devices.

As for Mr. Rossi’s concerns that these arresting systems are made by a single company and they could go out of business, that concern does not seem to halt other mountainous states from using their products along U.S. Highways. And, since this is a very practical and worthwhile product, if the company did go out of business, one can imagine that someone would purchase the patents and rights and keep it going. I see this is an unrealistic “concern.” The most recent use/completion of this system is in Utah.

Ideally, Allegheny Mountain needs two of these devices. One on the approach to “Dead Woman’s Curve” and one on approach to the “Horseshoe Curve.” I have driven this road, studied this road and examined the truck crashes for many years. I feel that I know what I am talking about and I respectfully ask you to please address this. The state and the WV DOH employees all have a moral and legal obligation to address this situation. With all of the bond and COVID funds available, now is the time.

In closing, will you please put this matter to rest once and for all and order one of two things. Resumption of the realignment/Arresting System construction, or a complete rebuilding of that stretch of highway along an entirely new alignment. Why is our area neglected?

Rick Gillespie

Franklin

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