West Virginia Turnpike

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West Virginia Turnpike
Route information
Maintained by West Virginia Parkways Authority
Length88.0 mi (141.6 km)
ExistedNovember 8, 1954–present
Major junctions
South end I‑77 / US 460 near Princeton
North end I‑64 / I‑77 / US 60 in Charleston
Highway system
The West Virginia Turnpike in Fayette County.

The West Virginia Turnpike is a toll road in the US state of West Virginia. It is also signed as Interstate 77 for its entire length as well as Interstate 64 from Charleston to just south of Beckley. From Beckley, the road extends south to Princeton. The Turnpike contains the only tolled sections of either Interstates 64 or 77.

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.

The road is often referred to simply as "the Turnpike" by locals, since there are no other toll roads in the state. Due to the difficulty and lives lost in construction, it has also been called "88 miles of miracle."[1]


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 U.S. 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.[1]

"The turnpike that goes to nowhere"[edit]

A two-lane segment of the West Virginia Turnpike north of Beckley in 1974

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.[citation needed] 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.[1]

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.[1]

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.[1] 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)."[2]

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.[1]

Construction took two years at the cost of five workers.[1] The first section of the highway, the southern 36 miles (58 km) from Beckley to Princeton, opened to traffic on September 2, 1954.[3] 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."[1] Triangular Turnpike shields, with the words "West Virginia" at the top and an interlocking "T" and "P" in the center,[4] 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.[2]' "

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."[5]

Soon after the Turnpike was completed, the Interstate Highway System began. The new Turnpike, despite its lack of compliance with interstate 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 couldn't 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.[1]

Popular T-shirts proclaimed, "I survived the West Virginia Turnpike."[citation needed]

Modernizing the Turnpike[edit]

The West Virginia Turnpike in Kanawha County near the Morton Service Area.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the growing Interstate Highway System brought in toll-free segments of newly built Interstate 77 from Ohio to the north, and Virginia to the south ends of the Turnpike. Interstate 64 was completed from the Kentucky border east to Charleston. Work on Interstate 79 extended south from Pennsylvania through Morgantown and Clarksburg to Charleston. Another portion of Interstate 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 2-lane Turnpike could handle adequately. Congestion at the toll plazas was a major concern, along with the increased fatality rate.[1][6]

The gap on Interstate 64 between Sam Black Church and Charleston forced east–west traffic to use a scenic but treacherous section of U.S. Route 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.[1]


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.[6]

In 1976, contracts totaling well over $200 million were awarded, and construction began.[3] 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, Interstate 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, Interstate 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, Interstate 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[edit]

By 1987, upgrading of 87 of the 88 miles (142 km) of the Turnpike were essentially completed.[3] The only remaining segment, the Memorial Tunnel, once hailed as "state-of-the-art" and the "most majestic feature of the highway,"[1] 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.[1]

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.[2]

"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.[7]

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.[7]

The new Memorial Tunnel bypass cost $35 million and required years of work. Ten million cubic yards 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.

Final cost[edit]

The West Virginia Turnpike in Raleigh County. The next interchange leads to the Beckley Service Area and the Tamarack.

The final cost for the entire modernization of the West Virginia Turnpike was $683 million, more than $300 million over original estimates.[5] 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 Interstates 77, 79, and finally 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.[2] HMSHost operates the various restaurants at the plazas, while ExxonMobil (through its Exxon brand) operates the gas station at each plaza.

In May 1996, Interchange 45 was renovated to serve the Beckley travel plaza, Dry Hill Road, and the newly constructed Tamarack arts and crafts outlet.[8]

In 2004, a concession stand and new restroom facilities were constructed at the rest area at milepost 69, serving southbound travelers.


The Tamarack, Best of West Virginia at the Beckley Service Area in Beckley, West Virginia.

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.[8]

Bond troubles[edit]

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.[2] 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 Interstate 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.[9]

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.


The West Virginia Turnpike in Kanawha County near the Morton Service Area. Concrete problems caused by spacing and joint issues has caused maintenance headaches.

The Parkways Authority briefly raised toll rates on January 1, 2006,[2] 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. "[2] 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.

Route description[edit]

Toll booths on the West Virginia Turnpike.

From its northern terminus at Charleston, to the southern end at Princeton, the turnpike travels a total of 88 miles (142 km).[10] From the northern terminus in Charleston to Exit 40 south of Beckley, the Turnpike carries a concurrence of Interstate Highways 64 and 77. At Exit 40, the two interstates split, with the final segment consisting solely of Interstate 77. All mileposts and exit numbers are based on Interstate 77's mileage, increasing from the Virginia border as the Turnpike proceeds north. Thus, Interstate 64 motorists will see a "break" in exit numbers based on an east-west scheme at Exit 100, the Northern Terminus in Charleston, and then again at the split at Exit 40.

At first, the Turnpike parallels the Kanawha River and is mostly level. After Exit 85 (WV 61 to US 60, Chelyan/Cedar Grove), the road takes a sharp right turn and then arrives at the first tollbooth. Proceeding south, the Turnpike traverses rugged terrain and features several sharp curves and grades greater than 6%. The speed limit of 60 mph (97 km/h) is vigorously enforced by a toll-paid force of state police. This stretch of the Turnpike has seen no greater accident rate than similar sections with higher speed limits, and in fact was signed at 65 mph (105 km/h) from 1987 to 1995 with no change in its accident rate. The middle section of the Turnpike (roughly between Exits 60 and 28) mostly runs along ridge tops and more level areas near the city of Beckley, allowing for a 70 mph (110 km/h) speed limit. The last segment (roughly from Exit 28 to Exit 9) has both mountainous and level sections, and retains the 70 mph (110 km/h) speed limit. The Turnpike officially ends at Exit 9 (US 460, Princeton/Pearisburg). I-77 continues south from this point as a freeway, and crosses into Virginia through the East River Mountain Tunnel near Bluefield.

North of the Turnpike, I-77 continues as a freeway through northwestern West Virginia and exits the state across the Ohio River near Parkersburg, while I-64 continues westward to Huntington, crossing into Kentucky just west of Huntington.

There are three toll booths along the Turnpike. As of January 2019, passenger cars pay $4 at each toll booth. Additionally, there is a toll booth at exit 48 (to US 19, North Beckley/Summersville), which charges $0.75 for automobiles.[11] Rates for larger vehicles are higher. The southernmost toll booth 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.

In 2012, to prevent lengthy emergency delays, the parkways authority created five permanently signed detours, including parts of US 219, US 60, and Interstate 64. The longest is a 130-mile (209 km) detour between Beckley and Sutton using US 19 and Interstate 79.[12]

Most mileage signs show the distance to destinations and control cities on Interstate 77. The only mileage signs on the Turnpike for a destination not on Interstate 77 show the distance to Lewisburg whereas mileage signs show the distance to Parkersburg and Bluefield, along with Wytheville, Virginia, cities that are on I-77 but not on the Turnpike.

Exit list[edit]

MercerPrinceton I‑77 southContinuation south
8.814.29 US 460 (Corridor Q) – Princeton, Pearisburg
12.720.4Princeton travel center
13.621.914 CR 7 (Athens Road) to WV 20 – Camp CreekAdded during reconstruction in 1979
15.224.5Bluestone service plaza (northbound only)
19.631.520 US 19 – Camp CreekAdded during reconstruction in 1979
RaleighGhent28.846.328 CR 48 – Ghent, Flat TopAdded during reconstruction in 1979
33.553.9Plaza A (Ghent) Toll booth
Beckley39.363.240 I‑64 – LewisburgThe interchange was constructed with provisions for a toll plaza; the exit itself was not utilized until 1988 when the interstate was completed east towards Lewisburg; begin Interstate 64 concurrency
41.867.342 WV 16 / WV 97 (Robert C. Byrd Dr.) – Beckley, Mabscott, Sophia, MullensAn original interchange on the Turnpike; it is a double trumpet
44.371.344 WV 3 (Harper Road) – BeckleyAn original interchange on the Turnpike; expanded from a trumpet with a toll plaza to a diamond with reconstruction of the mainlines in 1985
45.673.4Beckley service plaza
45.673.445Beckley service plaza
Added in the mid-1990s when the Beckley service plaza was expanded to include the Tamarack.
47.476.348 US 19 (Corridor L)Toll booth at ramp for WVTPK NB to US 19 NB and for US 19 SB to WVTPK SB; added during reconstruction in 1980
FayettePax54.487.554 CR 232 – PaxAdded during reconstruction in 1982
57.993.2Plaza B (Pax) Toll booth
Mossy59.495.660 WV 612 – Mossy, Oak HillAn original interchange on the Turnpike; full access during reconstruction in 1985; previously had northbound entrance, southbound exit only and contained a toll booth
66.0106.266 CR 15 – MahanAdded during reconstruction in 1983
Kanawha74.0119.174 CR 83 (Paint Creek Road) – StandardAdded during reconstruction in 1983
Morton75.6121.7Morton service plaza (northbound only)
79.3127.679 CR 793 (Cabin Creek Road) – SharonAdded during reconstruction in 1981
Chelyan82.3132.4Plaza C (Chelyan) Toll booth
84.5136.085 US 60 / WV 61 – Montgomery, Chelyan, Cedar GroveAn original interchange on the Turnpike; formerly contained a toll plaza
Marmet89.3143.789 WV 61 / WV 94 – Marmet, ChesapeakeAdded during reconstruction in 1981
Charleston94.3151.895 WV 61 (MacCorkle Avenue) – CharlestonAn original interchange on the Turnpike; formerly contained a toll plaza within the double trumpet
95.5153.796 US 60 (Kanawha Boulevard) – CharlestonFormer trumpet interchange with toll plaza; modified after reconstruction in 1982
I‑64 west / I‑77 northContinuation north
1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Monday, Christopher R. "The West Virginia Turnpike: 88 Miles of Miracle". March 2, 2003.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g CAF Report. West Virginia Turnpike. March 20, 2005.
  3. ^ a b c Release Date Report. West Virginia Department of Transportation. August 2003.
  4. ^ West Virginia Turnpike Dedication Program
  5. ^ a b Massey, Tim R. "'Toughest, meanest job' ends as governor opens turnpike." Herald-Dispatch. September 3, 1987.
  6. ^ a b Barr, Greg. "Parkways Authority Approves Significant Long-term Turnpike Construction, Maintenance and Modernization Strategy." West Virginia Parkways Authority. December 14, 2005. December 20, 2005 [1].
  7. ^ a b "Turnpike's Memorial Tunnel closes." Herald-Dispatch. July 6, 1987.
  8. ^ a b The Best of West Virginia. Tamarack. March 24, 2004 [2].
  9. ^ Miller, Tom D. "It'll be four lanes all the way... and a free ride for almost a day." Herald-Dispatch. September 1, 1987.
  10. ^ "West Virginia Turnpike History". West Virginia Parkways Authority. Retrieved July 3, 2017.
  11. ^ http://www.wvturnpike.com/PDFfiles/NewTollSchedule.pdf
  12. ^ "W.Va. Turnpike designates emergency detours". Sunday Gazette-Mail. Associated Press. 18 April 2012. Retrieved 17 August 2014.

External links[edit]

Route map:

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