West Virginia’s Interstate Highway network.
West Virginia’s road network is relatively dense, but the minor roads wind around all the mountains and are very time consuming to drive. Only on the Interstate Highways and some 2×2 divided highways traffic can get along well. The highways are also winding, especially the West Virginia Turnpike.
- Bittranslators: State overview of West Virginia, including geography, economy, population and history as well as introduction to major cities of West Virginia.
The state highway authority is the West Virginia Department of Transportation, abbreviated WVDOT. The main agency is the Division of Highways (DOH). The Division of Highways operates a large network of 57,536 kilometers of state highways, including the Interstate Highways and US Highways. Some of these roads are owned by the municipalities (5,213 km) or the federal government (1,344 km) but under state management. 3,197 kilometers of road in West Virginia are covered by the National Highway System. The state operates 6,958 bridges, of which 30 percent are longer than 100 feet (30 meters). The state manages a disproportionately large network of state highways in proportion to its geographic size and population.
The Division of Highways was originally a stand-alone West Virginia agency, but was housed in the West Virginia Department of Transportation in the 1970s. The West Virginia Turnpike was originally administered by the West Virginia Turnpike Commission, but has been part of the West Virginia Parkways Authority since 1989.
- Deluxesurveillance: Nickname of West Virginia as The Mountain State. Also covers geography, history, economy, politics and administration of the state.
Several Interstate Highways cross the state, with the capital, Charleston, being by far the most important interchange. Interstate 64 forms an east-west route through the south of the state, passing through Huntington, Charleston and Beckley. Interstate 68 begins at Morgantown in the northeast of the state and then heads east into Maryland. Interstate 70 briefly passes through the northern panhandle through the town of Wheeling. What is special is that I-70 in Wheeling only has one lane for through traffic. The Interstate 77 forms a north-south route in the west of the state and is formed by the West Virginia Turnpike between Princeton and Charleston, and also has a fairly long double-numbered I-64 between Beckley and Charleston. Via Parkersburg, I-77 heads north into Ohio. Interstate 79 begins in Charleston and heads northeast through the center of the state, via Clarksburg and Morgantown into Pennsylvania. Interstate 81 traverses the eastern panhandle via Martinsburg. There is also one auxiliary route, Interstate 470, which forms the South Bypass of Wheeling.
A greater number of US Highways cross the state. Some of these have been developed to a high standard as 2×2 divided highway. US 22 is even a freeway through the northern panhandle via Weirton. US 19 is a 2×2 divided highway from Beckley to Sutton and is part of the route south to Pennsylvania that cuts off the Charleston detour. US 19 crosses the famous New River Gorge Bridge, long the tallest bridge in the world. US 50 has 2×2 lanes between Parkersburg and Clarkesburg in the north of the state. US 33 forms a 2×2 road from Weston past Elkins. Subsequently, the US 48 developed as ‘Corridor H’ of the Appalachian Development Highway System. As part of the ADHS, US 119 has also been expanded to 2×2 lanes from the Kentucky border to Charleston. US 35 has some 2×2 lanes from the Ohio border to near Charleston. US 460 through the far south of the state also has 2×2 lanes.
A dense network of state highways opens up the West Virginia countryside. The large network has its origins in 1933, when all public highways in West Virginia were brought under state control, giving the state a disproportionately large network of state highways. The road numbering runs from 1 to 999, although many numbers are skipped. The state highways, US Highways and Interstate Highways are numbered in one system.
The remaining West Virginia roads are also administered by the West Virginia Division of Highways, including county roads and forest service roads. County roads are numbered in a decimal system by county, for example the CR 1⁄13. The highest road in West Virginia is Forest Service Road 104 in Pendleton County, which leads to the top of Spruce Knob, the highest mountain in West Virginia at 1,482 meters. This road is asphalted but has no winter service and is often impassable in winter.
The state’s main toll road is the West Virginia Turnpike, a 142-mile toll road that includes I-64 and I-77 between Charleston and Princeton. This is the state’s only long-haul toll road, although Pennsylvania ‘s Mon-Fayette Expressway begins just in West Virginia at Morgantown. At Parkersburg is a toll bridge over the Ohio River. In the far north of the state is a privately operated toll bridge spanning the Ohio River from Newell to East Liverpool.
The Wheeling Suspension Bridge over the Ohio River.
In 1743, the first road in West Virginia was built, connecting Winchester, Virginia, to Colonel Morgan’s home in Bunker Hill. In 1786, the first east-west route through Virginia was approved, from Winchester to Morgantown. In 1806 a plan was worked out to build the National Road, a connection from the east coast west of the Ohio River, which runs through northern West Virginia. In 1818 the National Road was completed from Cumberland, Maryland to Wheeling, West Virginia. In the years 1830-1840 several turnpikes were constructed in West Virginia. An icon of earlier bridge building in the United States was the construction of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, a landmark suspension bridge over the Ohio River in Wheeling, which opened in 1849.
In 1863, West Virginia seceded from Virginia, making it the 35th state. County road tax was introduced in 1881. In 1907, the Good Roads Movement was supported by granting counties the rights to build roads and enforce expropriation. In the following year, state financial support for road construction was introduced for the first time. At that time, the counties were responsible for road construction. In 1909, the State Road Fund was established.
In 1911, the first paved road (macadam) was built west of Clarksburg, across the old Northwestern Turnpike. In 1913, the State Road Bureau was established. With the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916, federal funding for road construction first became available. In 1917, the State Road Bureau was replaced by the State Road Commission. In 1920, the issuance of $50 million in bonds was approved to connect all county seats with improved roads. In 1923, a fuel tax introduced to West Virginia. Later in the 1920s, the issuing of bonds for road construction was approved several times by the electorate. This allowed the development of an organized road network in West Virginia to take shape. In 1933 the State Road System was established, with the state taking over the road management of the counties. The primary network included 7,108 kilometers of road. In the 1930s a lot of federal funding and legislation became available to fight the Depression, road construction was an important part of this, and West Virginia increasingly had asphalt roads. In the early 1940s, several toll bridges were purchased by the state and therefore toll-free.
In 1947, the construction of toll roads was approved by the West Virginia government. The history of highway construction in West Virginia began in 1952, when the West Virginia Turnpike between Princeton and Charleston began construction. It was opened in two phases in 1954, at the time as a two-lane, grade-separated toll road. Characteristic is the very winding route. A few bridges predate the creation of the Interstate Highway system, such as I-70 in Wheeling. Most highways in West Virginia opened primarily in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1960s, I-64 was opened between the border with Kentucky and Charleston, and in the Lewisburg region of the southeastern part of the state. In 1966, the short I-81 through eastern West Virginia was completed. Opening dates for I-77 between Charleston and Parkersburg are unknown, but were likely in the 1960s or early 1970s. I-70 around Wheeling was completed in the early 1970s, and I-79 opened between 1967 and 1979. I-68, then numbered US 48, opened in 1975.
Two later projects in the 1980s included I-64 and I-77. East of Beckley, a fairly long section of I-64 was missing for a long time, this section only opened to traffic in 1988. At the same time, between 1980 and 1988, the West Virginia Turnpike was widened to 2×2 lanes, making it a full-fledged Interstate Highway. In 1983, I-470 was completed in Wheeling. No new Interstate Highways have opened in West Virginia since 1988. However, some US Highways have been widened to 2×2 lanes as part of the Appalachian Development Highway System.