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I-81 one of 3 worst roads

July 08, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The 26-mile section of Interstate 81 in Berkeley County is considered to be one of the most dangerous stretches of highway in the state for commercial vehicle accidents, a state Public Service Commission spokesman said.

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PSC officials pinpointed on a map the commercial truck accidents they investigated in 1998 to determine where the most had occurred, said PSC spokesman Bob Teets.

The study included all types of highways in the state, said Teets.

The agency came up with three sections of interstate highway that had the highest number of commercial truck accidents.

The worst section of interstate was a 67-mile stretch of Interstate 64 from Charleston to the Kentucky line. Teets said 44 accidents resulting in 19 injuries and 3 fatalities occurred along that section in 1998.

The second worst area was a 55-mile stretch of I-64 from Charleston to Beckley, which is also the West Virginia Turnpike. There were 35 accidents, resulting in 12 injuries and one fatality on the road, said Teets.

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I-81 in Berkeley County was the third most dangerous with 21 accidents and 18 injuries, according to Teets.

The PSC released the figures as they start a new program to increase inspections of commercial vehicles, which include tractor-trailers, garbage trucks and other commercial haulers.

Using a $140,000 grant, the PSC is paying its inspectors overtime to inspect commercial trucks to make sure they meet safety standards.

PSC chairperson Charlotte R. Lane said the first results of Operation Safety First were surprising.

Between June 14-19, 182 commercial vehicles were inspected in Mingo and Wayne counties in the southern part of the state. Of the 182 vehicles, 90 had defects serious enough to take them out of service, according to the PSC.

Operation Safety First is also underway on I-81 in Berkeley County, although no statistics are available yet on that stretch of road, Teets said.

Lane said she does not believe the number of trucks being taken off the road necessarily indicates a trend of more unsafe trucks on the highway. She said the numbers may be going up due to the increased inspections combined with growing reliance on trucks to haul the nation's products.

"I-81 is a very heavily used interstate," Teets said Thursday.

Some truckers do not see I-81 as problem road.

"If they think this is bad, go drive in Chicago or New York," said Emory Gardner, who was working on his tractor-trailer during a layover at the 76 Truck Stop in Spring Mills Thursday evening.

Gardner said he does not see many safety-related problems with rigs on the road. Most trucking companies are conscientious about proper safety, he said.

The problem is automobile drivers on I-81, who whip in and out of traffic and do not take into consideration that a tractor-trailer cannot maneuver as easily as a car, said Gardner.

"It's the people who live in the area, and they're in a hurry," said Gardner.

Gardner agreed with Lane that the high number of trucks being pulled off the road because of defects could be due to a larger number of trucks on interstates, not a trend of increased safety problems.

Large retail chains, such as grocery stores, do not store goods for long periods of time like they used to, said Gardner. Instead, they depend on trucks to deliver a steady supply of goods, said Gardner.

Buyers find good prices on items such as lettuce, then want it hauled up the East Coast within a day or two, said Gardner.

"You play a game with the shipper and the people receiving it," said Gardner.

John Miles said he has been driving a tractor-trailer on I-81 since the freeway was built, and he has never had any problems.

The interstate's 70 mph speed limit is perfect for traffic flow because it's not too fast, and its high enough to keep traffic moving, Miles said.

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