Interstate 77 in West Virginia
I-77 highlighted in red
|Maintained by WVDOH and WVPA|
|Length||187.21 mi (301.29 km)|
|History||West Virginia Turnpike opened November 8, 1954|
Completed in 1988
|South end||I-77 / US 52 at Virginia state line|
|North end||I-77 at Ohio state line|
|Counties||Mercer, Raleigh, Fayette, Kanawha, Jackson, Wood|
Interstate 77 (I-77) in the U.S. state of West Virginia is a major north–south Interstate Highway. It extends for 187.21 miles (301.29 km) between Bluefield at the Virginia state line and Williamstown at the Ohio state line.
The highway serves Charleston, the capital and largest city in West Virginia; it also serves the cities of Beckley, Bluefield, and Parkersburg. I-77 uses the entire length of the West Virginia Turnpike, a toll road between Princeton and Charleston, and it runs concurrently with I-64 between Beckley and Charleston.
Historically, the West Virginia Turnpike was a two-lane road with treacherous curves and a tunnel (which has since been decommissioned). Construction began in 1952, several years before the Eisenhower Interstate System was funded. It was only in 1987 that the entire length of the turnpike was upgraded to Interstate standards. Due to the difficulty and lives lost in construction, it has been called "88 miles of miracle."
Virginia to Charleston
I-77 enters West Virginia from Virginia via the East River Mountain Tunnel; it runs concurrently with U.S. Route 52 (US 52) within the tunnel. It surfaces in Mercer County to the east of Bluefield. I-77's first exit in West Virginia is 0.6 miles (0.97 km) north of the state line; US 52 leaves the highway here. I-77 continues north to Princeton. In Princeton, I-77 becomes the West Virginia Turnpike, which it remains through Charleston. The highway continues northward through rural Mercer County, roughly following U.S. Route 19. It crosses the Bluestone River in Eads Mill and passes Camp Creek State Park in Camp Creek. I-77 enters Raleigh County near the community of Ghent. I-77's northbound and southbound lanes separate here; they do not reunite until a point south of Daniels. I-77 meets I-64 south of Beckley, and the two highways become concurrent. The highways bypass the west side of Beckley and pass the turnpike's Beckley Service Area, which includes Tamarack, Best of West Virginia, at exit 45. I-77 heads north from Beckley into the Appalachian Mountains. It enters Fayette County near Pax, and it crosses into Kanawha County near Standard shortly afterwards. The highway continues north until it reaches the Kanawha River near Cabin Creek, where it turns northwest to follow the river into Charleston. I-77 crosses the river between exits 95 and 96 in Port Amherst. The West Virginia Turnpike ends after exit 96, and I-77 becomes a freeway.
Charleston to Ohio
I-77 continues into downtown Charleston after the turnpike ends. It crosses the Elk River before separating from I-64 at an interchange in north Charleston. I-77 heads northeast along the river until it meets the southern terminus of Interstate 79 near Yeager Airport. I-77 then heads north into rural Kanawha County. It enters Jackson County near Goldtown. The highway continues north through Ripley, where it intersects U.S. Route 33. It becomes concurrent with US 33 and remains so through Silverton, where US 33 leaves the interstate and West Virginia Route 2 joins it. I-77 turns northeast toward Rockport, where it enters Wood County and turns north toward Parkersburg. It runs through the southeast corner of Parkersburg, bypassing the center of the city. It crosses the Little Kanawha River south of Parkersburg and heads northeast from the city. WV 2 leaves I-77 soon after, at exit 179 in North Hills. I-77 heads north towards Williamstown, where it crosses the Ohio River into Marietta, Ohio on the Marietta–Williamstown Interstate Bridge.
There are three toll barriers along the turnpike. As of January 2019[update], passenger cars pay $4 at each barrier. Additionally, there is a toll plaza at exit 48 (to US 19, North Beckley/Summersville), which charges $0.75 for automobiles. Rates for larger vehicles are higher. The southernmost toll barrier is south of the split with I-64, so east/west basic traffic pays $8. The West Virginia Turnpike is a member of the E-ZPass electronic toll collection consortium, allowing members to attach a transponder to their windshield and pay electronically.
The Parkways Authority briefly raised toll rates on January 1, 2006, but a state judge found the hike to be illegal, rescinding it a few days later. The state legislature subsequently affirmed the judge's decision, and removed the Commission's power to set rates, reserving that power to itself.
Greg Barr, General Manager of the West Virginia Parkways Authority, had said that while other states had dramatically increased their tolls over the past few years, the West Virginia Turnpike had not experienced any rate hikes in over two decades. However, tolls were subsequently increased by 60% (from $1.25 to $2 at each barrier) in 2009, and again by 100% (to $4.00 at each barrier) in 2019.
In the antebellum years before West Virginia separated from Virginia, development of adequate roads was a major area of conflict between the western regions and the east. Through the Board of Public Works, the Virginia state government helped finance turnpikes among its programs to encourage internal improvements, with tolls collected to defray operating costs and retire debt. Principal among these was the east-west Staunton and Parkersburg Turnpike, completed from Staunton to the Ohio River at Parkersburg immediately prior to the American Civil War (1861–1865). However, many of the internal transportation improvements were destroyed during that conflict, although bonded debt remained to be paid, even as additional progress had ended. After resolution by the U.S. Supreme Court, which assigned 1⁄3 of the amount due to the new state early in the 20th century, West Virginia was faced with retiring its share of Virginia's pre-civil war debt for the earlier turnpikes (and canals and railroads) even as the citizens needed and sought better roads.
With the completion of the earliest portion of the Pennsylvania Turnpike before World War II by its northern neighbor, dreams in the Mountain State for such a superhighway took substantial root. By mid-century, in the years before creation of the Interstate Highway System in 1956, superhighways in the form of additional toll roads such as the New Jersey Turnpike and the Ohio Turnpike began stimulating economic development and enhancing transportation in the eastern United States.
The challenge of terrain in West Virginia mirrored that of Pennsylvania in some ways, but with several important distinctions. The most important of these was that the first portion of the Pennsylvania Turnpike had largely followed and utilized a costly earlier rail project which had never been completed. In West Virginia, there would be no such advantage.
"The turnpike that goes to nowhere"
Originally serviced by railroads and then two-lane highways, by the mid-20th century the cities of southern and central West Virginia grew to the point where the roadways between these regions were becoming woefully inadequate. Heavier traffic loads and increasing traffic volumes made the existing roads dangerous with safety statistics to prove it. In 1949, Governor Okey L. Patteson oversaw the creation of the Turnpike Commission which was the start of the planning of what was to become the West Virginia Turnpike.
Two years earlier, the state legislature had appropriated funds to study the feasibility of building a superhighway comparable to similar projects being planned and constructed in other states. Early proposals showed a highway stretching from Parkersburg to Princeton, while another map diagrammed a route from Wheeling to Princeton. Both of these plans, however, were shelved in a 1951 study, citing the extreme costs of building a modern highway through very unforgiving terrain as the primary reason. The study recommended that the northern terminus be moved to Fairplain just outside Ripley and that the southern terminus remain in Princeton. The study also suggested that the highway be constructed as a two-lane facility rather than a four-lane highway, with provisions for future widening when funding became available.
In November 1951, the final alignment was chosen. The route was 22 miles (35 km) shorter than the original road mileage between Charleston and Princeton, but would save motorists over two hours of driving between those two points. Original cost projections came in at $78 million. According to the West Virginia Turnpike CAF Report:
The Commission issued $96 million of 3 3⁄4% revenue bonds in April 1952, and groundbreaking took place in August of that year. Due to the occurrence of large slides midway through construction that had to be corrected at additional expense, revenue bonds for an additional $37 million were sold at 4 1⁄8%. The year 1953 kicked off a period of intense earthmoving that at its peak reached a million cubic yards a week and totaled 30,000,000 cubic yards [23,000,000 m3].
When ground was broken on the first segment of the turnpike in 1952, the northern terminus had once again been moved south. This time it was placed at Charleston, citing cost as the primary reason. Cost was projected to be $133 million, to be funded through bonds that would be repaid through a system of tolls. This cost included $5 million for a two-lane tunnel to connect Dawes to Standard.
Construction took two years at the cost of five workers. The first section of the highway, the southern 36 miles (58 km) from Beckley to Princeton, opened to traffic on September 2, 1954. In November, the remaining 52 miles (84 km) between Charleston and Beckley opened. The new turnpike had several nicknames, including "88 miles of miracle" and "the engineering marvel that beat the mountains". Triangular turnpike shields, with the words "West Virginia" at the top and an interlocking "T" and "P" in the center, were installed along the highway. Six interchanges were constructed. Initially, the road used a ticket-based tolling system. At each interchange, bridges and underpasses for the mainline had an extra set of graded lanes, indicating that the turnpike was expected to be widened in the future. According to the West Virginia Turnpike CAF Report:
The $1.5 million cost per mile was only one of the staggering statistics used by journalists as far away as Michigan and New York to describe their "amazement at an engineering achievement of such heroic proportions".
Three service areas, each served by an at-grade intersection, were constructed at Morton, Bluestone and Beckley. The service areas were originally referred to as "Glass Houses".
For the first few years, the West Virginia Turnpike was a desolate roadway. Although the northern terminus was at a large city, it connected to no other interstates or free-flowing roads. The highway lost some of its "marvel" when The Saturday Evening Post referred to the road as "the turnpike that goes to nowhere".
Soon after the turnpike was completed, the Interstate Highway System began. The new turnpike, despite its lack of compliance with Interstate Highway standards, cut travel time considerably through the state of West Virginia and linked the southern states to the northern states. This new link, however, was overloaded with traffic by the late 1960s. The turnpike became known as a death-trap, mainly because in-state drivers who were accustomed to lower traffic volumes could not handle the increased traffic that came with the new connection and increased auto and truck accidents resulting in fatalities. By 1975 the death toll for the 21-year-old highway was at 278 and in 1979, 28 fatalities occurred on the turnpike.
Popular T-shirts proclaimed, "I survived the West Virginia Turnpike."
In the 1960s and 1970s, the growing Interstate Highway System brought in toll-free segments of newly built I-77 from Ohio to the north, and Virginia to the south ends of the turnpike. I-64 was completed from the Kentucky border east to Charleston. Work on I-79 extended south from Pennsylvania through Morgantown and Clarksburg to Charleston. Another portion of I-64 was built from Virginia west into the southern portion of the state, ending abruptly at Sam Black Church.
These connections brought more traffic to West Virginia than the two-lane turnpike could handle adequately. Congestion at the toll plazas was a major concern, along with the increased fatality rate.
The gap on I-64 between Sam Black Church and Charleston forced east–west traffic to use a scenic but treacherous section of U.S. Route 60 (US 60) known as the Midland Trail through Rainelle and Ansted before the road descended Gauley Mountain at Hawk's Nest to the Kanawha River Valley to reach Charleston. There were terrible accidents along this stretch and lengthy delays as trucks negotiated the major grades.
This section is in a list format that may be better presented using prose. (March 2019)
Studies were undertaken to upgrade the highway in the early-1970s. In 1974, the cost to expand the turnpike to four lanes was placed at $350 million. When the project had not started by 1975, articles in local newspapers attacked the state workers for their "laziness" in pursuing the upgrade of the highway. Turnpike officials worried, as the costs for upgrading the toll road were increasing dramatically.
In 1976, contracts totaling well over $200 million were awarded, and construction began. A construction time-line follows:
- 1979: First section of modernization completed in Mercer County from milepost 10.60 (just north of exit 9, US 460) to milepost 35.52 (south of exit 40, I-64) in Raleigh County.
- 1980: A segment from milepost 46.70 to milepost 47.95 (exit 48, To US 19) was completed just north of Beckley.
- 1981: Fayette County completed a brief segment from milepost 56.15 near Long Branch to milepost 59.63 (exit 60, Mossy) and from milepost 62.27 near Kingston to milepost 66.51 (exit 66, Mahan).
- 1982: The modernization of the turnpike from milepost 52.20 just south of Willis Branch to milepost 56.12 near Lively was completed. A second Kanawha River Bridge near Malden and the Kanawha City neighborhood of Charleston was built to carry an additional two lanes of traffic between mileposts 94.96 to 95.87).
- This four-lane upgrade was extended southward to milepost 90 (exit 89, WV 94, Marmet) in 1984.
- 1983: A segment between Fayette and Kanawha counties was dualized from milepost 66.51 (exit 66, Mahan) to milepost 74.96 (exit 74, Standard). Traffic just to the west of this interchange used the two-lane Bender Bridge and Memorial Tunnel.
- 1984: The turnpike was dualized from milepost 90 (exit 89, WV 94, Marmet) to milepost 82.55, including construction of a new Toll Plaza C near Sharon.
- 1985: Work continues on a segment south of Mossy from milepost 59.63 (exit 60, Mossy) to milepost 62.27 near Kingston. Also, a segment from the southern terminus of the Turnpike at milepost 8.97 (exit 9, US 460) to milepost 10.60 in Mercer County was reconstructed. A Raleigh County segment from milepost 40.73 (exit 40, I-64) to milepost 43.83 (exit 44, WV 3) was dualized. The segment from milepost 47.95 (exit 48, to US 19) to milepost 52.20 (Toll Plaza B at Pax) was completed.
- 1986: The segment from milepost 35.52 to milepost 40.73 (exit 40, I-64) was dualized.
- 1987: Work finished the dualization from milepost 43.83 (exit 44, WV 3) to milepost 46.60). The last segment was completed when the Memorial Tunnel and Bender Bridge were bypassed with a massive road cut.
Bypassing Memorial Tunnel
By 1987, upgrading of 87 of the 88 miles (142 km) of the turnpike were essentially completed. The only remaining segment, the Memorial Tunnel, once hailed as "state-of-the-art" and the "most majestic feature of the highway", was becoming a bottleneck in the otherwise four-lane highway. By 1986, the Turnpike Commission was spending over $500,000 per year to maintain the lights and the automatic exhaust equipment in the tunnel.
Several options were considered, including dualization of the tunnels, addition of two lanes through a large road cut in the mountain, leaving the other two lanes in the tunnel, and replacement of the entire tunnel with an open cut to the north. Citing the high maintenance costs of a tunnel, the replacement option was ultimately chosen.
"The biggest relief will be from our utility crews, who had to maintain the electrical systems and so forth in the tunnel," Turnpike Commission Chairman George McIntryre said. "It will make all of our jobs easier as far as traffic is concerned on the turnpike."
The 1.72-mile (2.77 km) bypass would bypass both the tunnel and the Bender Bridge which crossed Paint Creek just to the east of the tunnel portal. On July 6, 1987, the Memorial Tunnel officially closed, and two lanes of the open cut just to the north of it were opened. The other two lanes of the open cut were completed in late August.
State Trooper W.D. Thomson became the last motorist to drive through the tunnel. It was not meant to be that way. Originally, Tommy Graley of Standard and his two daughters were picked to be in the last vehicle to pass through the tunnel, but his pickup truck was followed by a car carrying Turnpike officials and the state trooper.
The new Memorial Tunnel bypass cost $35 million and required years of work. Ten million cubic yards (7,600,000 m3) of earth were removed and used as fill with drainage tiles for Paint Creek. 300,000 tons of coal were extracted. The Bender Bridge was demolished. The former Memorial Tunnel was used for storage until the mid-1990s, when it became a testing center for tunnel-fire suppression for Boston's Big Dig project.
The tunnel is still being used today by the National Response Center for military and other testing uses. The bypass was not the first of its kind on a toll road, as the Pennsylvania Turnpike bypassed the Laurel Hill Tunnel in 1964 in similar fashion, and later bypassed two more tunnels with a single stretch of highway in 1968.
The final cost for the entire modernization of the West Virginia Turnpike was $683 million, more than $300 million over original estimates. It was also one of the few Interstates that received 90% federal funding and permission to charge a toll, due to extremely high construction costs. A total of 18 interchanges now exist on the West Virginia Turnpike, up from the original six. A rest area is now provided at milepost 69 for southbound motorists, and a scenic overlook of the Bluestone River also serves southbound motorists.
The turnpike displays many cuts through mountains as well as lanes that are separated from each other by substantial difference in elevation. With the completion of I-77, I-79, and finally I-64 by 1988, the turnpike has again become stressed, especially during peak holiday seasons.
On June 1, 1989, The West Virginia Legislature created The West Virginia Parkways, Economic Development and Tourism Authority to replace the Turnpike Commission.
In 1991, the Morton and Bluestone Glass Houses were replaced with larger, more modern travel centers. In 1993, the Beckley Glass House was also replaced. Morton and Bluestone service plazas were available to northbound travelers only, while the Beckley service plaza was accessible only to southbound motorists. HMSHost operates the various restaurants at the plazas, while ExxonMobil (through its Exxon brand) operates the gas station at each plaza.
In 2004, a concession stand and new restroom facilities were constructed at the rest area at milepost 69, serving southbound travelers.
Tamarack, located at the Beckley service area, is an arts and crafts outlet that draws over 500,000 visitors a year. Tamarack features juried West Virginia craft products, including handcrafts, pottery, jewelry, fine arts, and products made from textiles, glass, metal, and wood. There are live artisan demonstrations as well as live music, a theater, and storytelling performances. It also contains a cafeteria-style restaurant.
At one point in the turnpike's history, the Turnpike Commission was not able to pay off even the interest on its bonded indebtedness, and the first bond was not retired until 1982. When the original bond expired on December 1, 1989, the Turnpike Commission had difficulty determining how to refinance it.
Total revenues from 1954 through 1986 totaled $309.3 million, with interest of $170.7 million. In 1986, total annual revenues were $30.4 million. The commission predicted that when I-64 was completed from Beckley to Sam Black Church in 1988, 6,500 more vehicles would travel the turnpike daily. In the previous 10 years, the commission noted, traffic increased 100% and annual gross revenues increased from $11.4 million to $30.4 million.
The refinancing plan was ultimately completed about six months later, with a new debt approaching $50 million. Consequently, tolls were held at former rates, ranging from $3.75 to $12 per one-way through-trip.
|East River Mountain||0.0||0.0||I-77 south / US 52 south||Continuation into Virginia|
|East River Mountain Tunnel|
|Mercer||Bluefield||0.6||0.97||1||US 52 north – Bluefield||North end of US 52 overlap|
|Ingleside||5.0||8.0||5||WV 112 – Ingleside||Southbound exit and northbound entrance|
|6.7||10.8||7||CR 27 (Ingleside Rd.) – Ingleside||Northbound exit and southbound entrance|
|Princeton||8.8||14.2||9||US 460 – Princeton||West Virginia Tourist Welcome Center and Vietnam War Memorial; south end of West Virginia Turnpike|
|13.6||21.9||14||CR 7 to WV 20 (Athens Road) – Athens||Concord University|
|19.6||31.5||20||US 19 – Camp Creek||Camp Creek State Park|
|Raleigh||Ghent||28.8||46.3||28||CR 48 – Ghent, Flat Top|
|Toll Plaza A|
|Beckley||39.3||63.2||40||I‑64 east – Lewisburg||South end of I-64 overlap|
|41.8||67.3||42||WV 16 / WV 97 (Robert C. Byrd Dr.) – Mabscott||Twin Falls Resort State Park|
|44.3||71.3||44||WV 3 (Harper Rd.) – Beckley|
|45.6||73.4||45||Tamarack: The Best of West Virginia||To Beckley Travel Plaza|
|47.4||76.3||48||To US 19 (Corridor L) – North Beckley, Summersville||Toll plaza on northbound exit and southbound entrance|
|Fayette||Pax||54.4||87.5||54||CR 23⁄2 – Pax|
|Toll Plaza B|
|Mossy||59.4||95.6||60||WV 612 east – Mossy, Oak Hill|
|||66.0||106.2||66||CR 15 – Mahan|
|Kanawha||||74.0||119.1||74||CR 83 (Paint Creek Rd.) – Standard|
|||79.3||127.6||79||CR 79⁄3 (Cabin Creek Road) – Sharon|
|Chelyan||84.5||136.0||85||US 60 / WV 61 – Montgomery, Chelyan, Cedar Grove|
|87.7||141.1||Toll Plaza C|
|Marmet||89.3||143.7||89||WV 94 to WV 61 – Marmet, Chesapeake|
|Charleston||94.3||151.8||95||WV 61 (MacCorkle Avenue)|
|94.6||152.2||Chuck Yeager Bridge over the Kanawha River|
|95.5||153.7||96||US 60 east (Midland Trail) – Belle||South end of US 60 overlap; north end of West Virginia Turnpike|
|96.6||155.5||97||US 60 west (Kanawha Boulevard)||North end of US 60 overlap; northbound exit and southbound entrance|
|98.0||157.7||98||To WV 61 / 35th Street Bridge||Southbound exit and northbound entrance|
|98.9||159.2||99||WV 114 (Greenbrier Street) – State Capitol|
|100.0||160.9||100||Leon Sullivan Way, Capitol Street|
|100.7||162.1||101||I‑64 west – Huntington||North end of I-64 overlap|
|101.4||163.2||102||US 119 (Westmoreland Road)|
|102.7||165.3||104||I‑79 north – Clarksburg||Southern terminus of I-79|
|Sissonville||105.9||170.4||106||CR 27 (Edens Fork Road)|
|109.9||176.9||111||CR 29 (Tuppers Creek Road) – Sissonville|
|112.4||180.9||114||WV 622 – Sissonville, Pocatalico|
|115.0||185.1||116||CR 21 (Haines Branch Road) – Sissonville|
|Jackson||||118.9||191.4||119||CR 21 – Goldtown|
|||123.9||199.4||124||WV 34 – Kenna|
|Ripley||131.4||211.5||132||CR 21 – Fairplain, Ripley|
|136.9||220.3||138||US 33 east / WV 62 south – Ripley, Point Pleasant||South end of US 33 overlap|
|Silverton||145.0||233.4||146||US 33 west / WV 2 south – Silverton, Ravenswood||North end of US 33 overlap; south end of WV 2 overlap|
|||153.4||246.9||154||CR 1 (Medina Road)|
|Wood||||160.7||258.6||161||CR 21 – Rockport|
|Parkersburg||169.0||272.0||170||WV 14 – Mineral Wells, Parkersburg|
|172.2||277.1||173||WV 95 (Camden Ave.) – Downtown Parkersburg|
|172.9||278.3||174||WV 47 (Staunton Ave.) – Parkersburg|
|175.4||282.3||176||US 50 (7th Street, Corridor D) – Downtown Parkersburg|
|179.0||288.1||179||WV 2 north / WV 68 south (Emerson Avenue) – Vienna, North Parkersburg||North end of WV 2 overlap|
|Williamstown||184.8||297.4||185||WV 14 to WV 31 – Williamstown, Vienna|
|Ohio River||187.21||301.29||Marietta–Williamstown Interstate Bridge|
|I-77 north||Continuation into Ohio|
|1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi|
- Adderly, Kevin (February 5, 2019). "Table 1: Main Routes of the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways as of December 31, 2018". Route Log and Finder List. Federal Highway Administration. Retrieved March 1, 2019.
- Monday, Christopher R. (March 2, 2003). "The West Virginia Turnpike: 88 Miles of Miracle".
- CAF Report. West Virginia Turnpike. March 20, 2005.
- "Dedication of the West Virginia Turnpike". Retrieved March 10, 2019 – via www.wvculture.org.
- Release Date Report. West Virginia Department of Transportation. August 2003.
- West Virginia Turnpike Dedication Program.
- Massey, Tim R. (September 3, 1987). "'Toughest, meanest job' ends as governor opens turnpike". Herald-Dispatch.[full citation needed]
- "The West Virginia Turnpike: Moving Mountains". MyImprov. December 2, 2013. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
- Barr, Greg (December 14, 2005). "Parkways Authority Approves Significant Long-term Turnpike Construction, Maintenance and Modernization Strategy" (Press release). West Virginia Parkways Authority. Retrieved December 20, 2005.
- "Turnpike's Memorial Tunnel closes". Herald-Dispatch. July 6, 1987.[full citation needed]
- "The Best of West Virginia". Tamarack. March 24, 2004.
- Miller, Tom D. (September 1, 1987). "It'll be four lanes all the way... and a free ride for almost a day". Herald-Dispatch.[full citation needed]
- Google (February 20, 2009). "Overview Map of Interstate 77 Between Virginia and Charleston Distances Between Interchanges" (Map). Google Maps. Google. Retrieved February 20, 2009.
- Google (February 20, 2009). "Overview Map of Interstate 77 Between Charleston and Ohio Distances Between Interchanges" (Map). Google Maps. Google. Retrieved February 20, 2009.
- Media related to Interstate 77 in West Virginia at Wikimedia Commons
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