It’s not uncommon for folks traveling between Eagle Rock and Covington to take the “shortcut” over Rich Patch Mountain instead of wrestling with what’s left of the two-lane section of US 220, then cutting through or traversing Clifton Forge to reach I-64 to head west.
But it’s doubtful a traveler headed for I-64 who is unfamiliar with this neck of the woods, or a tractor-trailer navigating the curvy mountain back road would call it much of a “shortcut.”
Still, it seems more and more drivers are being directed to that “shortcut” when they’re traveling between US 220 and I-64, thanks to their automobile navigational systems—or GPS.
They’re also being directed across the mountain when they’re interested in connecting with I-81 southbound from I-64, or vice versa.
That “shortcut” involves a trip from Low Moor in Alleghany County over Rich Patch Mountain to Roaring Run, then west on Rt. 615 (Craig Creek Road), through Oriskany to New Castle, then east on Rt. 311 to Salem.
While it’s certainly a scenic drive, there’s nothing short about the time that route takes.
Fincastle District Board of Supervisors member Donna Vaughn raised the issue during last week’s regular board meeting.
She asked the VDOT representative at the meeting if the agency could put up signs on US 220 at Craig Creek Road directing drivers headed for I-64 to stay on US 220, and advising them against following their GPS navigational directions up Craig Creek Road and over Rich Patch Mountain.
Vaughn, who lives in Bessemer at the intersection of US 220 and Craig Creek Road, said they’ve noticed more drivers being directed over Rich Patch Mountain in the past year because so many newer cars are equipped with GPS.
While that can be an annoyance for someone in a passenger vehicle, it’s the bigger trucks—including tractor-trailers—that create the most problems.
A few have gotten stuck going up Roaring Run Road over Rich Patch Mountain.
Truckers are still taking the shortcut despite signs on US 220 telling truckers that Rt. 615 isn’t recommended for tractor-trailers.
There are two VDOT signs at Roaring Run Grocery at the intersection of Craig Creek Road and Roaring Run Road directed at truckers. One tells them that this is the last turnaround before they start up the mountain. The other advises against using Rt. 621 because it is a mountainous road.
Vaughn said she’s had personal experience with a delivery truck that was sent down Craig Creek Road to her home via GPS.
At first, she thought it was a fluke, but found out it’s becoming very common.
Jackie Lewis, who owns Roaring Run Grocery, said another problem for trucks is the weight limit on one of the small bridges on Craig Creek Road. She said one recent truck that came over the mountain from I-64 at Low Moor turned around at the store when the driver saw the weight limit sign for the bridge.
She thinks a sign at the intersection of Rich Patch Road and Roaring Run Road near the top of Rich Patch Mountain in Alleghany County would be the best place for a bridge weight limit sign so trucks would turn around there instead of coming down the mountain only to find out one of the bridges on Craig Creek Road has a weight restriction.
Craig Creek Road is marked with a centerline, but that was done at the Board of Supervisors’ request nearly 20 years ago, and not because the road met VDOT standards for a centerline. The late G.C. Thompson Jr., who was on the Board of Supervisors at the time, was persistent in lobbying VDOT to line the secondary road because he thought it would make the road safer for the increasing amount of traffic.
VDOT finally agreed to paint a centerline, but would not add shoulder lines because the pavement wasn’t wide enough.
Vaughn notes that having big trucks on these secondary roads is not safe.
It’s a problem in Alleghany County, too, she said.
She noted that Alleghany County Board of Supervisors member Steve Bennett has had trucks directed by GPS to a route in his district where the trucks have no place to turn around.
The Alleghany supervisors also are asking VDOT to put up signs at Low Moor advising motorists to stay on I-64 rather than taking the Rich Patch Mountain route.
In the eastern part of Botetourt, Rt. 43 between Buchanan and the Blue Ridge Parkway has been plagued over the years by truckers who are directed to take that route between I-81 and US 460 in Bedford County rather than staying on I-81 to Exit 150, then crossing Alt. 220 to US 460.
Trucks have nearly blocked Rt. 43 trying to navigate that winding road, and that’s before GPS became common.
In fact, Rt. 43 is scarred with pot marks from trailer landing gears that have drug and stranded trucks going up the mountain.
That, too, despite signs advising tractor-trailers and recreational vehicle trailers against using the road.
Lewis said most of the drivers using GPS who wind up at her store to be sure they’re not lost are headed north to The Homestead in Hot Springs or Snowshoe Resort near Marlinton, W.Va.
They’ve punched in their GPS units looking for the shortest route, or a route that’s not a freeway.
She said her store gets five or six travelers every day who are using GPS for directions. They want to be sure they’re not lost. When asked, she did note it was good for business.