The beauty of the mountains make West Virginia a beautiful tourist destination, but those same mountains make for a dangerous drive in some areas.
Joe Baker, Sr. drives big rigs across Sandstone Mountain along I-64. He has driven that route for 37 years and counting. In fact, he remembered when it first opened decades ago.
“We run all over, but I come through here a lot,” Baker said. “I think the first trucks that went through here had accidents – lost their brakes.”
Since its inception, Baker says safety improvements have made a difference on I-64, like the mandatory truck stop at the peak of Sandstone Mountain.
“We stop here,” Baker said. “Let your brakes cool, start off in a lower gear, take your time and go down the mountain.”
Division of Highways District 10 Maintenance Engineer Joe Pack said the interstate’s mandatory truck stop is a crucial step on the route before these tractor trailers, often carrying tons of cargo, descend the steep 7-percent grade.
“An interstate highway requires a very high standard of design,” Pack said. “The roadway he’s approaching is going to be a different drive in comparison to other roads and other areas of I-64, which are flatter and easier to travel upon.”
Escape ramps are another essential part of the I-64 layout. Pack says its extremely rare to find two downhill ramps, but they keep drivers safe in an emergency.
“It was complex. It was expensive. It was necessary, though,” Pack said. “Due to the 7-percent grade, we had to allow something to allow a driver to be able to get out of the roadway.”
With peace of mind every mile, drivers like Baker can tackle the mountainous terrain.
“Safety is top priority,” Baker said. “You have to keep your equipment up to date. You always got to go to make money, but your life is more important.”