Country Roads

22 farmLinda Burton posting from Charleston, West Virginia – Remember those country roads John Denver sang about? Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River…;  it’s quite a catchy tune. I started humming this morning as soon as I spotted my first Blue Ridge Mountain on the way west from Richmond; I was in full chorus by the time I got to the Shenandoah Valley; surely the prettiest valley this side of any mountain. Red barns and black cows and rolling hills; the landscape is pleasing to the eye; bucolicly peaceful. I-64 joins I-81 south for a few miles; then it jags off west by itself again; an up and down ride getting steeper as I approached the West Virginia line. I stopped at the Welcome Center for maps and guidebooks; the wind was blowing strong and the temperature was mid-thirties; although the sun had melted the snow on the south side of the road. Country roads, take me home, to the place I belong, West Virginia, mountain momma, take me home country roads. I-64 joined 22 toll boothI-77 and took off to the north towards Charleston; then bam, there was a toll booth! A toll booth on an interstate? “Why do they call it a FREE way?” I asked the nice lady who took my $2.00 toll fee. “It’s privately owned,” was her answer. “We get no state or federal money.” She pointed to a web address on the side of the booth and told me to read all about it; after getting settled in my room, that’s what I did. And that’s where I learned about the West Virginia Turnpike.

22 turnpikemapThe West Virginia Turnpike opened as a two-lane highway in 1954 and cost $133 million to construct. It is now a four-lane toll highway, 88 miles in length, between Princeton and Charleston, West Virginia. Described as “an engineering achievement of heroic proportion,” the Turnpike traverses mountainous terrain that required grades of up to five percent and the movement of 33 million cubic yards of earth. The Turnpike climbs from an elevation of 600 feet at Charleston to an elevation of 3,400 feet at Flat Top Mountain and has 116 bridges – more than one every mile.

An engineering marvel? Some big numbers to think about; the original construction required:

  • 60% of the excavation through rock.
  • More than 16,000,000 pounds of dynamite to move through 33,000,000 cubic yards of limestone, shale and earth.
  • Over 2,000 different machines to complete the process.
  • Almost 12,000,000 pounds of reinforcing steel.
  • 381,800 square feet of guard rail.22 bridge

The West Virginia Parkways Authority is the entity that has statutory authority over the construction, development and maintenance of those 88 miles; in 2010 Senate Bill 427 reorganized the Authority, allowing for new toll road projects and the issuance of parkway revenue bonds. Maintenance and safety continue to be a main focus, however; the Authority 22 bridge 2performs pavement and bridge maintenance of the Turnpike’s 426 lane-miles of roadway, 18 interchanges, and 116 bridges. They also perform snow removal and ice control during inclement weather on the roads, the parking lots of the three full-service travel plazas, two rest areas, and one Welcome Center along the Turnpike. The Authority also provides dynamic message signs to communicate with motorists about safety and congestion.

I was stopped at two separate toll plazas on my drive to Charleston; there are four in all on the Turnpike, operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; they collect more than $80 million 22 interstate signsannually. The E-Z Pass electronic system (which of course I wasn’t in on) allows drivers to pass through the toll barriers without stopping via a vehicle-mounted transponder. And discount plans are available for both car and commercial customers, including a “frequent user” pass (flat fee, unlimited use). West Virginia residents who use the non-commercial E Z Pass can deduct from their adjusted gross income up to $1,200 on their state income tax return.

The money collected supports 31 state police officers and two commercial motor vehicle inspectors; operates a 24-hour service linking state police, emergency services, and wrecker services; and operates a courtesy motorist assist program. So okay, I guess I won’t grouse 22 wv sign 2over the four bucks I was charged; by the time I reached Charleston I had switched from humming John Denver’s “country roads” to Paul McCartney’s “long and winding road;” a person would not want to be stranded anywhere along those 88 isolated miles. The sign that welcomed me to the state claims that West Virginia is a” wild and wonderful” place; it’s good to know the motorists here have backup.

The West Virginia Turnpike marked its 58th anniversary last November; the West Virginia Parkways Authority is headquartered in Charleston.