It's only a mile from the off-ramps to the hospital, but in foul weather, or during rush hour it could be challenging for ambulances racing to get a seriously ill or injured patient to the emergency room.
From King Street, an emergency vehicle has to turn onto Old Mill Road, which immediately goes into an "S" curve through a residential area. The road is narrow, winding and hilly with a bridge barely wide enough for two-way traffic before ending near the hospital at Dry Run Road.
"The current way of getting into the hospital is abominable," said Hospital Administrator Peter Mulford. Coming in by Exits 12 or 16 gives ambulances more room to maneuver but a longer trip off the interstate.
"If you look at the way this part of the Eastern Panhandle is growing, that will be an untenable exit for emergency purposes as you look five or 10 years down the road," Mulford said.
"The width of the ambulance nowadays to allow for the transport of multiple patients is wider," said Dr. Daryl LaRusso, the physician director of the hospital's Emergency Department. That increases the risk of a collision between a speeding ambulance and another vehicle.
"I've talked to paramedics and they feel it would benefit both themselves and the patients," LaRusso said. Inserting an intravenous line or giving other emergency medical care along the route is difficult, he said.
He added getting out of the hospital is almost as important as getting in, since patients are often stabilized there before going to other hospitals. The King Street exit is used for most medical emergencies south or west of Martinsburg.
LaRusso believes increasing traffic along the interstate will mean more accidents with serious injuries for the emergency room to deal with.
Mulford could not recall any ambulances being involved in accidents on Old Mill Road, but remembered one time an ambulance with a seriously ill patient was stopped by traffic on the road.
Options under study
Wise's news release said he contacted the Federal Highway Administration after meeting recently with the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce.
The support for an interchange doesn't mean that's the only option being considered by the Division of Highways. Roush said an ongoing study could determine that improvements to the existing road system, or construction of service roads between the Exits 13 and 16 could help speed ambulances in getting to the hospital.
Roush said he doesn't expect that study to be completed until next year.
"We at the Federal Highway Administration don't get into the decision-making by the state," said David Bender, the agency's district administrator for the region.
If the state does decide it wants an exit to serve the hospital, Bender said the federal government would have to approve any new points of access along the interstate.
Funding also must be approved by Congress. Bender said a simple diamond style interchange could cost between $5 million and $10 million. There is also the matter of public hearings, environmental impact and other studies that must be conducted before the blade of the first bulldozer hits dirt.
If the proposed Exit 7 in Franklin County Pennsylvania is any indication, the time lag between funding and construction can last many years. Money for that project was included in the 1986 federal highway bill and construction has yet to begin.
Bender said federal regulations call for spacing interchanges no less than three miles apart in rural areas and one one mile in urban areas. The King Street and Queen Street exits are about three miles apart.
Martinsburg is "kind of in-between. It probably depends more on the volume of traffic along the route and on the ramps. You've got a lot of volume on I-81," Bender added.