POINT PLEASANT — Thursday’s meeting of the Mason County Commission opened, as it always does, with prayer, though this time a prayer was said for John Kay who was killed in the latest fatality on U.S. 35 last week.
Kay, 46, a resident of Southside, was driving a farm tractor along the 14.6 miles of U.S. 35 that remain two lanes when a Gahanna, Ohio man allegedly began passing cars in a no passing zone at a fast rate of speed, according to law enforcement, and struck Kay on his tractor, causing the tractor to overturn.
Because of this latest tragedy on what many feel is one of the most dangerous stretches of road in not only Mason County but the state, County Commission President Rick Handley, representing the commission, met with West Virginia Commissioner of Highways Paul Mattox and members of his staff, including DOH engineers, this week. Accompanying Handley was Mason County resident Mike Criste and daughter Maggie, a senior at Point Pleasant High School - the Criste’s live in the area on W.Va. 817.
Handley said the meeting was about making that stretch of two lanes safer in light of the recent fatality. Some of the suggestions included more signage such as putting up a sign on each end of the two-lane stretch telling drivers who are not familiar with the road that they will have 14.6 miles of two lane ahead of them. More signs were also suggested alerting motorists to farmers and farm equipment using the road.
Another suggestion from the meeting included taking out some of the passing zones on that 14.6 mile stretch. Handley said he’s already spoken to Mason County Sheriff Greg Powers about increasing patrols in this area as well.
At Thursday’s commission meeting, Handley said the meeting in Charleston was positive, with Mattox taking the suggestions and asking his engineers to look into what could be implemented. Mattox and his team were also invited down to actually view and drive that stretch of road for themselves.
Handley stressed the top priority of the meeting was to increase safety on that stretch. After the meeting, Handley said he did remind Mattox Mason County was waiting on some good news concerning the completion of U.S. 35 to four lanes, minus tolls. According to Handley, Mattox said he was ready, the permits and right-of-ways were in place and he was waiting on word from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to proceed.
With last year’s passage of Senate Bill 190, new hope was renewed in getting U.S. 35 completed, minus tolls. 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. The new law has a provision that allows for tolling though it doesn’t have to be utilized as part of the financing package.