ToquiNotes: As Construction and Accidents along I-79 Keep Going, Pondering if Major Change is Needed

By Jeff Toquinto on May 06, 2017 from ToquiNotes via Connect-Bridgeport.com

Let me preface what I’m about to write with a couple of qualifiers. I need to get that out up front because as much as this is going to seem like a blame game, it really isn’t so much about blame as it is about trying to find a way to stop at best or curtail at worst what’s been taking place.
 
First, I’m not a traffic engineer. I’m not smart enough to be an engineer of any type and outside of being what I consider a pretty good motorist, my traffic skills begin and end there.
 
Second, I’m pretty much aware that what has resulted from what I’m writing about stems a whole lot from human error. In most situations where there’s incidents of harm, that’s frequently the case.
 
With those formalities out of the way, I think it’s time for the West Virginia Division of Highways joins with all parties – the contractor, the consultant if involved and any other agency – and revisit the project that began back on April 10 and is expected to continue until  Sept. 8. You know the project don’t you?
 
It’s the one along Interstate 79, just past Bridgeport and Clarksburg, between mile maker 111 and 117.5 in both the northbound and southbound lanes. The project’s length is the result of concrete barrier installation, work on the multiple bridges in that area of roadway and pavement markings.
 
I still remember receiving the press release on the project that announced it would continue during that time period around the clock. I also remember thinking this will interest a whole lot of people because it will impact a whole lot of people.
 
Turns out, at least on that front, I was right. More than 10,000 people clicked on the brief the folks at the local WVDOH were kind enough to send to local media outlets to share with the public. Where I was wrong was that I just thought it would be a headache.
 
For anyone that’s paid attention, since the project began a little less than a month ago there’s been a wreck – many of a serious nature – several times a week. Sometimes, in fact, there have been more than one in a day. The really sad part as I started writing this on Wednesday WDTV had reported yet another wreck along the same stretch of roadway.
 
I don’t have any raw numbers on the number of accidents in the area or leading up to the area where the work zone is. What I do have, and what I have seen on other media outlets, are continual reports relating to incidents there.
 
To save myself the hassle, I’m not going to update from the time I write this to today of any additional accidents. I’m hoping there aren’t any, but the early odds say otherwise.
 
Recently, a Department of Transportation official said on the Gary Bowden Show on 103.3 WAJR said “And, yes everybody, it’s an inconvenience. People gripe about it, but you also gripe about the potholes. It’s kind of a damned if you do damned if you don’t situation.” The same person also said it’s being evaluated daily to see what can make it better and that financial situations were part of the consideration.
 
Maybe the evaluations have taken place. The number of accidents slowed in the last week after what seemed like one every time you got up from your desk.
 
The problem, from this very novice’s perspective, is that you have in the southbound lanes four lanes being squeezed eventually into one is like putting a bowling bowl into a marble bag. It’s not a good situation. In the northbound lane, well, there’s just stuff that’s not working.
 
While the project is out of Bridgeport's City limits, there's few motorists in this city or beyond who hasn't been impacted. And when there's a traffic accident of a serious nature, it spills over into Bridgeport and Clarksburg with Route 50 and places like Lodgeville Road getting clogged up.
 
Maybe doing every bridge at once wasn’t a good thing where you have to keep so much of the interstate at one lane Maybe, just maybe, part of the project was value engineered to see the most cost efficient way as opposed to the best way – and that’s just me spit balling. And maybe they should have opted to wait a little longer, do less and only work the project at night.
 
Again, I don’t know if any of those things would work. I don’t even know if I’m in the right vicinity. What I do know is a whole lot of people have been hurt already and what point – even though there’s likely been human error more often than not – do you need to do more than tweak traffic controls into a construction area?
 
Pointing out issues like this may seem like shooting fish in a barrel – an easy thing to talk about to generate traffic to the Web site. But when I stood to take a few photos off the Route 50 Bridge over Interstate 79 the continual sound of brakes from cars and 18-wheelers was a bit unnerving.
 
I imagine some of those folks hitting their brakes hard that day were texting, or reaching for their phone. Heck, they may have been eating a meal or singing away. Remember that human error is always a key factor, but there comes a time when the same thing happens over and over that you simply can’t brush it off without a complete overhaul.
 
Are we there yet? I don’t know. I’m not a traffic engineer.
 
Let’s hope this blog turns out to be much ado about nothing from this point forward. I pray that’s the case because the alternative, eventually, will be deadly.
 
Editor's Note: Top photo shows the area where the bottleneck begins just past the Route 50 overpass for the northbound lanes. Bottom photo, courtesy of MetroNews, is of bridge work being done at the bridge at the Quiet Dell exit.


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