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Putnam wants dangerous crossing corrected

Chris Dorst
Four miles of U.S. 35 in Putnam County, including the Buffalo Bridge, was closed earlier this month because a tractor-trailer carrying medical disinfectant overturned. At a meeting Monday, Putnam County officials and residents said that section of road is dangerous and needs to be fixed.

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Members of the Putnam County Transportation Committee and residents who have to drive U.S. 35 want state highways Commissioner Paul Mattox and other state leaders to explain when they plan to fix a dangerous intersection that was recently the site of a chemical spill.

On May 10, a tractor-trailer carrying glutaraldehyde, a hazardous chemical, overturned while trying to negotiate a turn onto old U.S. 35 at the bridge that connects Fraziers Bottom with Buffalo. The wreck shut down the road for almost 24 hours and renewed safety concerns about the dangerous intersection.

The wreck happened on an incomplete section of the four-lane upgrade of U.S. 35 that forces travelers onto the old two-lane until they can get back onto the four-lane highway in Mason County. Residents say the intersection is the site of constant accidents, including three other accidents the week of the chemical spill.

Complaints about the intersection were the main topic of discussion at a regular meeting of the Putnam County Transportation Committee on Monday. The committee was set up by county officials and the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce in 1988 to keep tabs on transportation issues throughout the county.

Residents and local highways officials are well aware of the problem with the intersection, where drivers coming off of the four-lane are forced to slow down either to cross the bridge to Buffalo or make a left turn to continue on U.S. 35. Everyone agrees that the intersection is poorly designed, that the turn is improperly banked, and that the turn is a lot worse than it appears to drivers unfamiliar with the area.

Steve Fellure, who lives nearby, said accidents are frequent. He said accidents have knocked down one streetlight near the intersection so many times that repair crews gave up replacing it.

Area resident Paul Rogers said eight streetlights near the intersection are not working. "Local people have trouble [with the intersection]," he said. "Out-of-staters have a terrible time."

Ed Smithers, Putnam County maintenance supervisor for the West Virginia Division of Highways, attended Monday's meeting to help answer questions from residents but couldn't offer many answers except to agree that the bridge was dangerous and the design bad. He did promise to find out why the lights haven't been fixed in the area.

Residents didn't fault Smithers for not knowing more about plans for the area but had hoped someone with more authority would have been present to tell them when the problems will be corrected. The intersection was supposed to be a temporary measure until the final section of the U.S. 35 upgrade is completed, but funding for the project has dried up.

"We've got to get someone up the chain of command to realize how serious a problem this is," said Delegate Jim Butler, a Republican representing the local 14th District. Butler, Republican 14th District Delegate Scott Cadle and Sen. Chris Walters, R-Kanawha/Putnam, all attended Monday's meeting.

Walters said the three freshmen legislators have been able to push the state to raise the priority of the U.S. 35 upgrade plan. He said they will keep working to influence completion of the highway.

Local lawmakers and Putnam County Commissioner Andy Skidmore, chairman of the Transportation Committee, said they would try to get Mattox or other state officials to come to future committee meetings to answer questions from the public.

In the meantime, it was suggested that the nonworking streetlights be fixed or replaced and that committee members ask the Putnam County Sheriff's Department and State Police to start ticketing drivers who take the dangerous turn too fast.

The Transportation Committee next meets July 29.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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