SOUTHSIDE — Two deaths in the span of two months on U.S. 35 in Mason County has again brought the troubled road back into the local consciousness for all the wrong reasons.
On Wednesday, traffic engineers with the West Virginia Department of Highways met with Mason County Commissioner Rick Handley to examine what, if any, safety refinements could be made to the portion of U.S. 35 that remains two lanes in Mason and Putnam counties.
Handley, along with WVDOH Traffic Engineers Cindy Cramer, Deanna Deliere and Donna Hardy, started at the Buffalo Bridge in Putnam County, drove south to Mason County at Southside and then returned north to the Buffalo Bridge to examine both sides of the road. Handley had requested the meeting so WVDOH personnel could see firsthand what, if anything, can be done in terms of alerting drivers of possible hazards on what has become one of the area’s deadliest roads.
Handley spoke to the traffic engineers about more signage to alert motorists of farm equipment in the area, as well as looking at the passing and no-passing zones to evaluate where they are marked and their length. The passing and no-passing zones must be looked at very carefully so as not to give frustrated drivers a reason to make a risky maneuver, he said. Unfortunately, the recent fatalities occurred in no-passing zones, according to law enforcement.
Also being discussed was the possibility of placing signs on either end of the road where it drops to two lanes, alerting motorists not familiar with the area as to when the expressway reopens into four lanes.
Handley pointed out to the engineers that the majority of people who exercise caution on that stretch of U.S. 35 know the road and are from the area. He said problems seem to take place when motorists from out of the area, either going north or south, are busily on their way to their destinations on four lanes through multiple states and hundreds of miles until that 14.6-mile stretch of two lane slows them down. For most people from out of the area, they have no idea how long that lane reduction will take place or just what kind of area the road traverses through — namely, a rural area and active farming community.
Cramer said the suggestions and observations will be taken into consideration and once decisions were made it would be between 45-60 days to order and place signage.
She said in terms of safety, there are already center and edge line rumble strips to alert motorists of drifting from their lanes, as well as a wider shoulder along the two-lane. She added any sort of additions to these safety measures would be “refining” what is already in place.
Of course, many in the community feel the only way to remedy the dangerous situation on U.S. 35 is to get the 14.6-mile stretch completed into four lanes. As reported numerous times by the Point Pleasant Register, local elected officials have claimed Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has a plan to complete the road with the help of new legislation that went into effect last July 1, though that plan has not yet been given the green light. Also as previously reported, the county commission, along with local delegates, have encouraged a letter-writing campaign to the governor to get him to approve the project, less tolls.