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W.Va. 9 work moves ahead slowly

April 14, 1997


Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - W.Va. 9 is a winding stretch of mostly two-lane highway through the Eastern Panhandle, but the more than $110 million plan to improve it has been traveling even slower than the traffic.

The project is at least 18 months behind schedule while critics charge not all of the work is necessary.

"Eventually it'll become a reality," said U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., a supporter of the project in a recent interview.

The W.Va. 9 project is expected to make the highway safer and ease traffic congestion for commuters who live in the Eastern Panhandle, but work in Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia, Byrd said.

Byrd pushed through legislation for the federal government to pay $108.5 million for the project. The federal government will fund 80 percent of the cost while the state will pick up the remaining 20 percent.


But Byrd said he's concerned the Republican-controlled Congress will rescind the money set aside for the work. He said he's already fought off one effort and he's disappointed by how slow the progress has been.

"So much time is being taken on dealing with the environmental problems and around the historic places," Byrd said.

Construction on the first part of the three-phase project is not expected to begin until possibly late 1998, said Randolph T. Epperly, director of design with the state Division of Highways. The first phase is projected to cost $50 million. It also includes a 1,200-foot bridge over the Shenandoah River.

"It's taken longer than anticipated to resolve some of the historic issues," Epperly said.

The impact the highway would have on historic properties has slowed the project considerably, but a final decision could come soon, Epperly said.

Critics charge that the highway from Virginia to Charles Town is going to go through the center of a forest and cross a Civil War battlefield and historic properties.

"It would completely destroy the last sizable chunk of forest left in the county," said Pat Fiori, a member of a group called Common Sense 9.

She and other Common Sense 9 members said they worry that the road also will split historic farms in two and ruin the county's heritage.

Epperly said extensive work has been done to have a minimal impact on the historic properties.

"The area is rich in historic resources," he said. "The amount of work is tremendous."

The two-lane stretch of highway in Jefferson County becomes so clogged with commuters during rush hours that the director of the new telecommuting center has thought about using it as a way to encourage people to use the center.

"I've thought about putting up billboards on 9 saying, `Are you tired of this?'" said Peter Smith, the director of the Jefferson County TeleCenter in Ranson, W.Va., who used to travel the road to his job in Washington with NASA.

The second phase of the project is to make a four-lane highway from Charles Town to Martinsburg, W.Va.

That phase is not expected to be under construction until the middle of 1999 and will cost an estimated $60 million, Epperly said.

The third phase will run from Martinsburg to Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

"We anticipate construction at best in the year 2000," Epperly said.

With that phase, the state also is looking at a bypass around Martinsburg, he said.

The cost for that phase is unknown, he said.

While the project has its critics, there also are those who are eager to see W.Va. 9 become a four-lane highway.

"That's the most dangerous road in Jefferson County," said West Virginia State Police Sgt. S.L. "Sid" Sponaugle.

According to West Virginia State Police records, a high number of the fatal vehicle accidents in Jefferson County have occurred on W.Va. 9, said Sgt. S.E. Paugh.

  • 1997 - Three wrecks resulting in four deaths occurred W.Va. 9. One fatal accident was on the other roads in the county.
  • 1996 - Two wrecks causing two deaths occurred on W.Va. 9. Five wrecks with five deaths came on other roads elsewhere in the county.
  • 1995 - No fatal accidents occurred on W.Va. 9, but one fatal wreck happened elsewhere in the county.
  • 1994 - Four people were killed in three wrecks on W.Va. 9. Eight people were killed in seven accidents elsewhere in the count.
  • 1993 - Five people killed in two accidents on W.Va. 9. Eight people died in eight wrecks elsewhere in the county.
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