CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Due to a hastened repaving job, both north and southbound lanes of Interstate 77 at mile marker 111 and 113 were reopened Wednesday morning following a massive gas explosion and fire Tuesday afternoon.State Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox said walking on the surface of I-77 after the blast and fire "was like walking on the cinder track back in high school." The emulsion bonding the asphalt surface together burned away, leaving a layer of loose gravel on top."Initially, I thought it would take at least 24 hours to get I-77 reopened, but thanks to a coordinated effort by our crews and crews from American Asphalt Paving and West Virginia Paving, we had all lanes in both directions open by 8 a.m."Ten men from West Virginia Paving laid 900 tons of blacktop between 6 p.m. Tuesday and 8 a.m. Wednesday, said Chet Rodabaugh, operations manager of the paving company.
"This was the worst I've ever seen," Rodabaugh said. "I've done a lot of repairs after structure fires and never seen anything of this magnitude."The work was done overnight Tuesday into Wednesday morning to repair the crumbling road, which melted after the massive fire ripped across the interstate.Overnight predictions said crews hoped to have the repairs done by Wednesday afternoon. But crews were ahead of schedule with northbound lane repairs finishing before midnight.Before the interstate could be paved, rocks and dirt had to be removed from the roadway, according to Rodabaugh.Road crews stopped temporarily to let the gas crew test the line and had to leave the worksite. About 3 a.m., the northbound lanes of I-77 North between the Charleston split and mile-marker 113 were open. W.Va. 21 between Charleston and Pocatalico quickly followed.Shortly after 7 a.m., crews had about 200 tons of asphalt left to lay on the southbound lanes and at about 8 a.m., -- just in time for the morning commute -- both lanes were open, according to the DOT's Twitter account.The rapid repairs were made in spite of the three-hour, middle-of-the-night shutdown to allow gas crews to test repairs to the line. An 800-foot long segment of the freeway had to be milled down through its asphalt surface material to its concrete layer, and then receive a new layer of asphalt. Heat-melted guardrails were replaced, and the driving lanes were re-striped."We had to remove several inches of asphalt to get to where it wasn't burnt up and find a good base to lay it back on," Rodabaugh said.Staff writer Kathryn Gregory contributed. Reach Kate White at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1723. Reach Rick Steelhammer at email@example.com or 304-348-5169.