BERKELEY COUNTY, W.Va. - There is some good news for drivers headed through West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle this holiday season, construction on I-81 is finally done. Despite being finished way behind schedule, state officials say the addition of extra lanes should make for a smoother drive this year.
It's one of the busiest travel times of the year and things are looking up in Berkeley County. A couple of months ago, the five-mile stretch of I-81 was filled with construction in two tight lane highways. Now it's extended to a third lane going both directions. Officials say this should provide drivers with some ease as they go to celebrate Thanksgiving with their loved ones.
"We noticed a big help for us, we still had a several crashes on the interstate in the area that has been completed," said Trooper MD Gillmore of West Virginia State Police. "With that extra lane it gives us, that extra space to kind of move people around, open up the interstate quicker than we did before."
"Fewer accidents are occurring, it's done very well. It was delayed for a number of reasons," said Sen. John Unger, W.Va. State Majority Leader. "I sought the reason why and I was trying to find out what was the problem with it, but it's been opened up,"
Officials say the $30 million dollar project started back in the spring of 2011. It was originally suppose to be completed by the end of last summer, but the Division of Highways encountered delays. With an increased number of accidents during this past Summer, DOT officials were directed to have it completed before the holidays.
"We see all too often some accidents in the work zones," said Brent Walker, spokesperson for West Virginia Department of Transportation. "With that we had commitments to the folks there, that we would get that thing done in November and we are pleased to do it."
From now until the end of the year, police are urging drivers to exercise caution especially traveling on the I-81.
"Interstate-81 continues to be a very busy interstate," said Gillmore. "It's a major thruway between the north and the south and connecting a lot of places, over these holidays and upcoming for Christmas it will be heavily traveled."
There is another construction phase on Interstate-81 in the works from exits 12 to five in Berkeley County, but that work hasn't yet been scheduled to begin.