It may say July on the calendar, but traffic on the West Virginia Turnpike on Sunday resembled the Sunday after Thanksgiving -- usually the heaviest travel day of the year.
“We had some delays coming into the toll plazas Sunday afternoon between 2 and 5. It was almost comparable to the Sunday after Thanksgiving,” Greg Barr, general manager of the state Parkways Authority, said Monday.
The Turnpike handled about 164,000 toll transactions Sunday, almost double the daily average of 99,000, Barr said.
Overall, traffic during the Fourth of July travel period was up 2.25 percent over 2013. Barr said a combination of factors contributed to the traffic surge, including having the Fourth of July fall on a Friday, creating a three-day weekend for many, as well as additional traffic going to and from the Greenbrier Classic golf tournament, which ended Sunday afternoon.
While the White Sulphur Springs resort is some 70 miles off the Turnpike, Barr noted that hotels and motels in Beckley were sold out over the weekend with people attending the golf tournament and concerts.
He said that for the most part, traffic backups did not exceed two to three miles Sunday.
Toll plazas on the Turnpike are designed so that an extra lane can be added either northbound or southbound, but Barr said traffic in both directions was equally heavy, making it impractical to “flip” a lane.
“We were doing 2,200 transactions an hour northbound, and 1,800 transaction an hour southbound,” he said. “We couldn’t flip a lane because it would have backed up in the other direction.”
Tandem toll booths at each of the three toll plazas were opened to reduce delays, he said.
While there were brief backups at the toll plazas, there were no major traffic stoppages, as occurred after the Fourth of July last year, when a tractor-trailer jackknifed, closing all four lanes of the Turnpike near Sharon that Sunday afternoon.
“Luckily, we didn’t have any serious accidents,” Barr said.
Because July 4 can fall on any day of the week, Parkways uses an 11-day period to track holiday traffic, going from the previous Thursday to the Sunday after the holiday.
This year, there were 1.43 million toll transactions during the period, an increase of 31,600 transactions from 2013, and up more than 20,000 from 2012.
Barr said that next year, the Turnpike may need to post advisories encouraging drivers to avoid traveling during peak periods on the Sunday after July 4, as is done for the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
“We warn people at Thanksgiving to try to plan their travel to avoid the peak traffic period between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.,” he said.
Next year, July 4 falls on a Saturday, again creating a three-day weekend scenario with many workplaces designating the previous Friday, July 3, as a holiday.
Reach Phil Kabler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1220.