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Work continues to clear rockslide from Interstate 77

By Candace Nelson

PRINCETON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Division of Highways hopes the northbound lanes of Interstate 77 will reopen at the end of the week to accommodate the impending Easter traffic.

"It's not going to happen tonight or tomorrow. But we're really pushing - I hate to put out a solid date, but we're really hoping it's by the end of this week if not sooner to get it open," said Carrie Bly, communications specialist for the West Virginia Department of Transportation.

Weather conditions have slowed the progress of cleaning up the rockslide on Interstate 77 at Mile Marker 3 between Bluefield and Princeton. The rockslide, which began Wednesday morning, has become more treacherous as below-freezing temperatures and slick roadways plague the area.

About a dozen workers from the contractor and nearly 100 workers from the DOH, including engineers, surveyors, traffic controllers and geological techs, are working to combat the rockslide.

Crews were working on busting up rock at the bottom of the hill so that the material at the top had a place to land. The DOH contracted Vecellio & Grogan to work day and night on the cleanup, but crews have since been instructed to only work during the day.

"It's unsafe anyway having equipment on a side of a mountain and on top and doing that. But then you factor in icy conditions, and it's wet. We called off the night work. It's just too unsafe to do it; it's not the safest during the day," Bly said.

"It's hard work. Our people have been working so hard to get it open. But Mother Nature has been slowing it down. They're getting frustrated, I'm sure. Because we're doing everything we can to get it back open. If we didn't have snow and wet, muddy conditions, which certainly lend to more sliding ... that's our big concern. If it were dry conditions, it's still tough."

Bly said the plan was initially to open one lane of traffic, but with the weather, it's a growing concern that the slide could slip more.

"We're working hard through it and hoping to get both lanes open at the same time. If we open one lane, it's going to hamper us even more. People stopping and staring with one lane could lead to more accidents. So, we're going to keep it closed longer, but when it's opened up, it's ready to go and both will be open," she said. No injuries have been reported.


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