January 2, 2010
Joseph G. Murphy: Agencies hardworking during storm on Turnpike
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I commend the West Virginia Division of Highways, the West Virginia State Police and the West Virginia Turnpike Authority on their handling of the severe winter storm that erupted over the Mid-Atlantic region Dec. 18.
I was one of the "unfortunate" motorists trapped on Sandstone Mountain for about 18 hours that night. I must confess that the blame lies with me. However, the response of those West Virginia agencies made a bad situation much better. I am sure there is much blame to be passed around, but most of it lies with the drivers, who, like myself, decided to continue traveling even in the face of deteriorating weather conditions and worsening road conditions.
I fell into a line of vehicles following a snow plow up the mountain on I-64, starting on level ground at the base of the "hill." I am sure I was better equipped and better able to deal with poor driving conditions than many of the drivers I saw on the mountain that night, in that I know how to drive in snowy conditions, and my preparations took into account the possibility of an extended stay. I had food, water and plenty of warm clothes. To castigate the state agencies listed above for lack of preparation does them no justice. You should be responsible for yourself if you choose to venture out in such conditions.
I was trapped on Sandstone Mountain Friday night due to two other drivers' inability to drive on snow-covered roads. So I hunkered down. Plows worked all night to clear a path through the stalled vehicles. Shortly after first light, I could see bare pavement. A little while later, a state trooper checked on my welfare. (I was OK.) I felt sorry for the plow driver who had to inch his way up the mountain due to a shredded fan belt (a sign of poor preventative maintenance, probably due to budget cuts). But the driver was friendly and encouraging, letting me know that help was working its way up the mountain. Another state trooper brought food and water, and confirmed that help was on its way. These conversations indicated that only one plow was functional in this area due to maintenance issues or being stuck themselves.
About 11 a.m. Saturday, around the time I'd resigned myself to another long day and night on the mountain, a Division of Highways pick-up truck stopped beside me. The six gentlemen that barreled out shoveled out the truck and trailer in front of me, and then got me on the road again. Six men with shovels and cinders mixed with salt. Total concentration. I was on my way by 11:45 a.m. Stunning! The Division of Highways had accomplished what the poor drivers in front of me had failed to achieve, and the tow truck operators in the area could not do. I know at least one of the men was on work release. At least one was a highways employee. These men are to be commended. And commend whoever made the decision to use work release men to help us out.
Four clear lanes - meaning open travel lanes - from just outside Beckley to just past Pax. Then there was a short stretch of poorly cleared road, and soon Charleston was in sight. I know there were more issues on the Turnpike southbound. I can't speak to them. But I thought the State of West Virginia did a yeoman's job in making a bad situation better for all of us trapped on snowy roads, and never judged those of us stuck through our own volition.
I am sure better decisions could have been made all the way around. But this bad situation could have been worse were it not for the dedicated efforts of so many state employees.
I hope the trooper who showed up with the back of his SUV loaded with bread, meat and water was reimbursed; I suspect this was out of pocket, mostly because no official agency could possibly have reacted so quickly.
I hope the men who were on work release receive extra days off for their efforts. But, over all, I hope Gov. Joe Manchin realizes that part of the blame lies on him and his office: the budget cuts to essential services (preventative maintenance), and his failure to declare an emergency until after the storm had almost passed. Despite state lethargy, many things worked well. And I thank 104.5 FM radio in Bluefield. This was the only radio station I could find broadcasting travel, shelter and road conditions.
I am a living testament that a large number of West Virginia's state employees from at least three agencies went above and beyond to help those of us stuck in what was a truly bad situation. It wasn't fun sleeping in my Jeep while stuck on a mountainside highway. But I could have waited to get to Huntington. I was at least prepared. However, no one should demand more of the agencies than they were able to provide, and my experience was that everyone was doing their best with what they had available, including spending money out of their own pocket.
I had a tough trip. But I arrived safe and sound at my destination, in no small part to folks who really did try hard to make a serious situation so much better for many of us on the road on a holiday weekend. You may be Wild and Wonderful, but you are also helpful, generous and resourceful. Thank you, West Virginia.
Murphy lives in Richmond.------------------------------------------------------
Here is the first comment made about the piece on wvgazette.com:
Posted By: agusta55 (8 hours ago)
Mr. Murphy has cast the Turnpike Authority, DOH, State Police and other emergency service agencies in a LONG OVERDUE POSITIVE LIGHT! West Virginians while proclaiming our fierce independence and self-reliance, have obviously homogenized into that sector of American society which believes that the Government has an obligation to protect us from ourselves. And, any consequences of our ill-adivised actions are always someone else's fault. Mr. Murphy lays the blame squarely at the feet of those that deserve it---the travelers that disregarded days of repeated warnings about the impending blizzard! You took one for the team Mr. Murphy and kudos to you for it!
The letter was published in print and online on January 2, 2010. The link to the actual article is here: