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Editorial - A drive to improve I-81

August 25, 1997

For four years they've watched traffic on Interstate 81 build up, vehicle by vehicle, in the same way that snow storms add to the weight of a mountainside glacier - flake by frozen flake. Now elected officials have decided that unless they want to be buried in an avalanche of traffic, they'd better begin the push to upgrade I-81. Based on the numbers we've seen, they don't have much choice.

Four years ago a group called QUADCO, a group created by economic development officials from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, found that 50,000 vehicles a day (including 12,500 trucks) passed through the region on I-81 every day.

Today that figure stands at 64,000 vehicles, including 16,000 trucks, and in June QUADCO officials announced that it would expand its study of I-81 to include the area from Harrisburg, Pa. to Harrisonburg, Va. More important, QUADCO voted to make I-81 road improvements its No. 1 priority.

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Those improvements could include better interchanges and a third travel lane in each direction, but the first step will be a federal study to examine the traffic loads and whether interchanges are adequate to the loads they're being asked to bear.

The most inadequate interchange in the immediate area is the crowded cloverleaf at Halfway Boulevard, the gateway to Valley Mall, Wesel Boulevard and Hopewell Road. Earlier this year two developers proposed plans for new and/or expanded truck stops on Hopewell Road, which would draw even more big truck traffic to the region.

For an area which is the commercial center of Washington County, adequate traffic access is a must. Not upgrading this interchange would push development to more remote locations with less congestion, encouraging sprawl and diminishing the quality of life in rural communities. To prevent that, local citizens should back QUADCO's plan as good for business and the environment.

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