CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. (WDVM) — As the eastern panhandle continues to grow, so do headaches for public safety officials worried about the traffic.
With the explosive growth in Jefferson County, traffic on one major highway is dangerous.
In the past year, there have been a hundred motor vehicle accidents on U.S. Route 340 in the stretch from Charles Town to Harpers Ferry — more than 400 since 2017. Charles Town Mayor Bob Trainor has been taking the lead with his police chief, Chris Kutcher, to explore the best ways to protect motorists.
“We investigated and responded to over 400 crashes in that five-mile stretch,” says Kutcher. “And we had made over 600 traffic stops on that five-mile stretch of highway.”
It is a concern, too, for Jefferson County Sheriff Pete Dougherty, who sees the county population doubling in the next decade. He recalls investigating the death of a young boy in a collision where two motorists were confused about the right-of-way.
Both city and county officials reached out to the West Virginia Department of Highways with a wish list of improvements to make the highway safer. More traffic signals is one proposal, but far from the perfect one.
“Our top speed that we saw out there was about 97 miles an hour,” says Kutcher. “It’s a 60 mile-an-hour zone in that stretch.”
Jefferson County has more traffic volume than any other county in West Virginia without an interstate highway. Sometimes in rush hour traffic backs up in clusters of half-a-mile. Turning lanes have been considered, or more warning lights. It’s a lot of work for a small police department like Charles Town. And with more commercial and housing developments, the problem will only get worse.
The Jefferson County Commission has been drafting a “U.S. Route 340 East Gateway Plan,” but planning has been stalled in the eight years it has been on the drawing board.
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