SOUTHSIDE —One of the deadliest stretches of road in Mason County, and some may argue the state, claimed another victim Wednesday.
An accident between a car and a farm tractor on U.S. 35 in Southside ended in the death of the man driving the tractor around 11 a.m. Wednesday morning.
Mason County Sheriff Greg Powers reported once the tractor was struck, it rolled over, causing the fatal injuries. The victim had not been officially identified at press time pending notification of his family. The driver of the car was also injured and taken by air medical helicopter to a local trauma center for treatment of their injuries. The driver also had not yet been identified as of press time.
The Mason County Post of the West Virginia State Police is investigating the crash. Sgt. T.S. Mills told members of the media on Wednesday the driver of the vehicle was driving at a “fast” rate of speed in a non-passing zone and this appeared to be a direct cause of the fatality.
Troopers were recreating the accident scene to get a more accurate depiction of what occurred. The accident reportedly took place on a section of U.S 35 which remains two lanes near Kay Lane.
Due to the nature of the accident, the cleanup and recreating the accident scene, traffic on U.S. 35 was backed up for miles and hours. Motorists were asked to use traffic detours at Henderson and the Buffalo Bridge to avoid the area. The road reopened around 7 p.m. on Wednesday, according to Ernie Watterson, Mason County supervisor for the West Virginia Division of Highways.
The 14.6 miles of U.S. 35 that remain two lanes through Mason and Putnam county have been one of the most talked about stretches of road in the state - certainly in Mason County. This accident will no doubt add fuel to that debate.
Residents, local legislators and the county commission have all contacted Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin about help with finishing the road, minus tolls, since the passage of Senate Bill 190 (the public-private partnership bill) passed into law on July 1, 2013. SB 190 allows the state highway commissioner to approve public road projects without legislative approval — these projects would then be subject to financing and construction via a private company if that company meets all the requirements contained in the law.
Last summer, Amy Goodwin, director of communications for Tomblin’s office, confirmed the state was proceeding with the purchase of the remaining right-of-ways along the 14-mile stretch of U.S. 35 which is two lanes through Mason and Putnam counties. In addition, Goodwin said the state was also looking at alternatives to funding this completion “absent tolls.” Late last year, West Virginia Commissioner of Highways Paul Mattox said the division of highways was looking to move forward on its latest six-year program which included various highway projects of which the completion of U.S. 35 was one.
Still, no announcements about the road’s final completion have been made.