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Arts & Culture

Locals Worry About Traffic, Safety In New River Gorge

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Devyn Washington
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Road in Fayette County, West Virginia

Last year the federal government designated the New River Gorge in West Virginia as a national park. The new designation is set to bring more tourists to visit this rural area of West Virginia, and  it could also bring additional car traffic. 

Anna Skaggs and Devyn Washington are student reporters at the Fayette Institute of Technology and they both live near the gorge. They spoke with people in their community about safety concerns, due to the increase in visitors and wrote the following essay. 

As local teenagers who learned to drive on these roads, we welcome the new visitors, but increased traffic has begun to affect locals. The larger number of vehicles has created more wear on the roads and longer commute times. Many say it is the most traffic we’ve had in the area for years.

“I would absolutely say it's probably tripled,” said Nick Mooney, a longtime resident and Fayette County Deputyssheriff. “Route 60 is unique because it's a U.S. Highway, U.S. Route 60. But there's also a lot of attractions just off Route 60. We see it a lot at work on the back roads [where] there's so much more traffic.”

Another local officer, Deputy Sheriff Kelly McClintic, said some residents compare the increase in traffic to the boom years, when there were more people living in Fayette County.

“When you talk to some of the old timers, for them to say there's a lot of traffic on Route 60, that the traffic is worse now, that's pretty indicative of how bad it is,” she said.

Along with the new visitors and tourism traffic, commercial traffic has also increased, from semi trucks, to log and gravel trucks.

“When I talk to people on Route 60, what they say is we see mostly an increase in truck traffic, McClintic said. “Because you have a lot of commercial drivers who are trying to avoid the tolls on Interstate 64.”

The added work also takess a toll on road maintenance crews, said Michael Knight, the shop crew leader for the state road garage in this area.

“Not on like U.S. 60, because the federal [and state] government help us fund that.” But Knight also said the maintenance is difficult to keep up with on side roads.

Several campgrounds and outdoor attractions are along US route 60 and bring in more tourists onto our roads that are not federally funded.

“That makes it harder to worry about the funding,” Knight said.

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Devyn Washington
/
Road in Fayette County, West Virginia

Because of the wilderness attractions, the rise in the number of tourists has affected more than just the roadways. There has been a noticeable effect on our wildlife as well.

According to Mooney, since the designation of the park and preserve, the number of accidents involving our wildlife has probably quadrupled.

There is not only a rise in concern for wildlife, but for the heightened amount of foot traffic as well, Mooney said.

“One of my biggest concerns as a deputy sheriff is, it's not necessarily the vehicle traffic. It's the foot traffic,” Mooney said. “I see a lot of foot traffic on Route 60 in the little offshoot roads over there. It used to be you go through on a pretty weekend there'd be seven or eight cars. They came in and widened the berms for parking, added more parking. And now that you drive through there on a Saturday when it's pretty, there'll be 60 people walking on the roadway.”

Even with all the concerns that have been observed, everyone we talked with offered varying solutions to the issues presented.

We asked McClintic what she thinks could be done to improve out of state traffic.

“I think there's a lot of things that you can do both on the roadway and with signage to calm down the traffic both with locals and with tourists,” she said. “I mean, a tourist needs to be advised a whole lot more than a local about some of the more treacherous spots.”

“Just, just go slow and pay, pay attention, be alert," Knight said. “That's the biggest thing that we deal with, with folks not being alert. They run our signs, they hit a pothole in the road. You know, a lot of stuff could be avoided, if the general public was just more alert.”

Mooney agrees that drivers need to be more aware. He said he also hopes there could be more social media and signage to inform visitors. “Hey, we know you're here to have a good time and enjoy what we can enjoy every day. Thank you for coming, but be cognizant of our local citizens.”

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Devyn Washington
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Historical marker along Route 60 in Fayette County, West Virginia

Anna Skaggs and Devyn Washington are high school juniors at the Fayette Institute of Technology. They reported this story as part of a project with Inside Appalachia to learn how to make radio stories.


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