On August 29, 1952, groundbreaking ceremonies for the West Virginia Turnpike were held in Mercer County. The state’s only toll road eventually cut driving time between Charleston and Princeton from four hours to two.
The road took less than two years to construct. Despite early plans for a four-lane highway, project costs limited the turnpike to only two lanes in most places. Still, the road was considered modern for the day.
It was first opened to traffic between Princeton and Beckley in September 1954 and then on to Charleston two months later.
In 1958, the turnpike was included in the new interstate highway system, which later required it to be expanded to four lanes throughout. After a slow start, reconstruction began in earnest in December 1976. Other than the wider road, the biggest change in the turnpike was a huge mountain cut in southern Kanawha County that bypassed the obsolete Memorial Tunnel.
Although state officials have long debated removing the road’s tollbooths, the tolls remain in place more than 60 years later as a way to defray maintenance costs and generate other revenues.