BETHLEHEM, W.Va. — More than 10,000 drivers in a 24-hour period — over half of all traffic — exceeded the posted 55-mph speed limit on Interstate 470 near Bethlehem, according to the West Virginia Department of Transportation.
The study occurred Oct. 25 after a treacherous accident involving a tractor-trailer shut down the highway for much of the day on Oct. 21. Since then, WVDOT and local law enforcement agencies have placed additional attention on the interstate to investigate questions about the newly paved road surface, as well as enforce the speed limit.
WVDOT’s speed study highlights what may be a persistent problem for this particular part of the highway.
WVDOT spokeswoman Carrie Jones said speed devices monitored the I-470 westbound on-ramp in Bethlehem and the highway’s slow and fast lanes.
The study tracked a total of 19,563 cars, finding more than half of the total drivers in each location broke the limit, with 92.2 percent of vehicles in the fast lane traveling beyond the limit.
“If you throw some type of inclement weather into that situation, it could be an issue,” Jones said.
She said the study took place in pleasant conditions, so it’s possible the results might change if recorded in unfavorable weather. She said an average amount of speeders were close to the 55-mph limit.
WVDOT will continue to analyze findings from recent tests of skid resistance on the road surface. I-470 was repaved this summer as part of a $3 million contract, and Jones previously said accidents have spiked since the project.
Right now, she said, WVDOT will focus on the issue of speed on I-470, noting if the skid tests present any inconsistencies it will address the issue.
She said WVDOT will issue additional funds to the Bethlehem and Wheeling police departments, the Ohio County Sheriff’s Department and the West Virginia State Police for targeted speed enforcement.
Bethlehem will receive $1,000, while Wheeling and the sheriff’s department will get $2,000. Jones did not know how much additional funding the state police would receive.
Wheeling Deputy Police Chief Martin Kimball said the funding is enough to pay for 15 four-hour targeted enforcement shifts. He said it’s believed speed and driver error are the causes of recent accidents — a total of eight since the repaving project, according to WVDOT.
While targeted enforcement makes an immediate impact, Kimball said the department hasn’t studied its long-term effect.
“Here’s the problem: A majority of people, because it’s an interstate, are from out of town,” Kimball said. “If you (cite) a guy from Minnesota, what sort of long term effect does that have? It’s a one-and-done type of thing.”
Kimball does believe targeted enforcement elicits a response from local residents and truck drivers, however. He said truckers talk to one another, and because their careers depend on clean driving records, they tend to adhere to speed limits.
However, WVDOT reported six of the eight recent accidents involved tractor-trailers. It’s not known how many of those accidents, if any, were a result of excessive speed.