Excavator topples onto I-81 near Martinsburg

  • Traffic continues to move around a toppled excavator Thursday north of Exit 12 on Interstate 81 in Berkeley County, W.Va., where crews are beginning the process of building permanent barriers in the median.
By Matthew Umstead,

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A backhoe-like loader being used in the Interstate 81 median replacement project toppled Thursday afternoon into a southbound lane of the highway north of Exit 12 near Martinsburg, officials said.

Berkeley County Sheriff Kenneth M. Lemaster Jr. said he did not believe anyone was injured in the construction accident, which was reported at 4:18 p.m., according to a Berkeley County Central Dispatch supervisor.

State Division of Highways officials were not available to comment about the accident, which caused a small diversion of traffic off the inside lane for at least 40 minutes, officials said.

A $7.79 million median project to replace the cable system median barrier with a concrete version is not expected to be completed until fall, according to Mike Miller, DOH District 7's area supervisor for construction.

About six miles of a three-cable, post system is being replaced between mile marker 11.5, (just south of Exit 12) to 17.73 (north of Exit 16), said Miller, who is managing the project for DOH.


The decision to replace the barrier was due to increases in the percentage of truck traffic, overall traffic volume on the highway and crash history, according to Donna J. Hardy, a DOH regional safety engineer.

In 2007, the average daily traffic for the section of the highway was 59,000 vehicles and is projected to increase to 96,800 by 2030, according to data Hardy released Thursday.

The concrete barrier will be 42 inches above a pavement base when installed, Miller said. Similar to what is known as a "Jersey" barrier, the concrete divider will be 2 feet, 3 1/2 inches wide at the base and 8 inches wide at the top.

The tapered design is meant to allow a vehicle to ride along the barrier wall without going over it, Miller said.

The additional paved area on each side of the new barrier will cover existing grass areas in the median, but will not be used for an additional travel lane, Miller said.

Before installing the barrier, crews must first rework the existing median drainage, which is no small task, Miller said.

"Changing those inlets is quite a bit of work," Miller said.

With a bid of $7,790,418.90, St. Albans, W.Va.-based Orders Construction Co., was the low bidder for the work, according to state transportation officials. The company is expected to have the work finished by Oct. 29, Miller said.

If the work isn't completed on time, the contractor could be penalized, said state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, who chairs the Senate Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

Bowing to pressure from the community, DOH officials in 2001 agreed to install the cable barrier system, which was the first of its kind in the state at the time, Unger said Thursday.

The decision to install the cable barrier came amid the project to widen I-81 from two to three travel lanes for both northboundd and southbound traffic between exits 12 and 16.

State highway officials said then that the cable barrier was about one-tenth the cost of installing a concrete barrier.

County leaders, however, remained unconvinced that the cable system was the solution and asked state leaders for the concrete median barrier.

Unger said he made "a push" for the project after becoming the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee chairman in 2005, but noted that the project's cost has been a barrier itself.

"It cost more than they anticipated," Unger said. "I'm just very happy that we're finally getting it done. I'm sorry that it's taken so long."

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