FRANKLIN, W.Va. (WBOY) — More than a week after a tractor-trailer rolled over into a construction zone on U.S. Route 33/Allegheny Mountain in Pendleton County, officials from both the county government and the West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH) are giving their response to what they think will make the area safer for drivers.

Rick Gillespie – Pendleton County Emergency Services Coordinator

Rick Gillespie has been the Emergency Services Coordinator for Pendleton County for two years and has been serving in some capacity in the county since 1979.

In an interview with 12 News on Thursday, Oct. 12, Gillespie said that he has been trying to get the WVDOH to make improvements to the Allegheny Mountain stretch of U.S. 33—which is the main road between Elkins and Seneca Rocks—for his entire career in Pendleton County.

He said the area has a higher rate of crashes and that they tend to be more extreme.

“A lot of the truck crashes resemble plane crashes where the trucks crash down the side of the mountain,” Gillespie said. “They literally look like what you see at a stereotypical plane crash.”

Gillespie said that the WVDOH has never given him a clear answer on what they plan to do in the area despite his recommendations for improvements over the past 44 years. Gillespie said that he and others have suggested projects over the years to do things like straighten out the highway, install runaway ramps and install a crash net system, which he said are used prominently out west.

Gillespie said that the main reason for these projects not happening is that funds for them “are either not there or they get pulled and redirected to a project they deem more important somewhere else.”

Gillespie gave credit to the WVDOH as they informed him on Oct. 12 that they would be lowering the speed limit in the area and said that some of the truck drivers that move through the area are partially to blame. Gillespie said that just before his interview with 12 News, he followed two trucks that did not obey the posted brake check prior to the mountain.

“A lot of trucks blow through it. They don’t stop. I just followed three trucks just now from Elkins, two of them blew right through it and immediately met a loaded tour bus. And that’s my big fear. One of these days, a runaway truck is gonna hit a school bus or a tour bus head-on and we’re gonna have a mass casualty incident that people are going to remember forever,” Gillespie said.

Gillespie sent a letter to Gov. Jim Justice after the crash on Oct. 5 calling for improvements to the area and warning that the completion of Corridor H would not solve the issues of the area. He said that he has not received a response from Gov. Justice as of Oct. 12 but has received word from the WVDOH that they’re having internal meetings about the highway and that they’ll meet with him soon.

“As I’ve offered for 44 years, I’m here to try and help. I’m not here to create a problem, I’m here to help solve it. If they’re willing to meet on the mountain or meet wherever, I think we can combine ideas,” Gillespie said. “They need to listen to some of us out here that have some ideas.”

West Virginia Division of Highways

On Friday, Oct. 13, the WVDOH announced several changes to the work zone one Allegheny Mountain which include:

  • Reducing the speed limit through the work zone to 30 mph.
  • Requesting additional law enforcement in the area to ensure that truck drivers comply with the posted speed limit and mandatory brake check prior to entering the area.
  • Posting additional warning signs and a message board to “reinforce the mandatory stop and inform drivers of the potential stopped condition.”

The WVDOH also said that the state Public Service Commission will also be checking trucks on the mountain.

The nearly $1.3 million project in the area is designed to install reinforced guardrails to help protect traffic in an area with a harsh switchback that also sits on a steep grade. The project will also build a large retaining wall and will work with the guardrails to help prevent vehicles from going over the side of the mountain.

However, Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston, P.E., said that the people driving have the most influence on these crashes rather than the environment.

“There would be far fewer accidents if drivers would pay attention and obey the law in work zones. That’s what keeps you safe and it’s what keeps our workers safe, Wriston said. “Please, hear this: Obey the law in work zones.”

The WVDOH said that it will continue to evaluate any necessary signage or traffic control device that could help traffic flow in the area.

12 News reached out to Gillespie on Oct. 13 and asked him to give his thoughts about the WVDOH’s additions and future plans for the highway.

“A great 1st step, for temporary measure. Certainly much more needs done for long haul,” Gillespie said. He also included his own personal picture of the new signage posted in the area, which can be found below.

(Photo Courtesy: Rick Gillespie Pendleton County Emergency Services Coordinator)