The engineering and right-of-way acquisition for the Halfway project, which includes a partial cloverleaf with a six-lane bridge over Interstate 81, has been placed on the fast track, and should be completed by the end of 1998. Construction could then begin in the spring of 1999 and would take up to two and a half years.
Public Works Director Gary Rohrer said that he was "extremely concerned" about the upgrade, both for safety and economic development reasons.
"Every day that goes by I count my blessings that we don't count bodies under white sheets at that interchange," Rohrer said.
"We'd just like to find a pot of gold with about $12 million in it."
Meanwhile, the $13 million Downsville Pike-Interstate 70 interchange project continues to move forward, with construction scheduled to begin in early 1998 and finish by late 1999.
County Commissioner R. Lee Downey asked for some additional money for a possible upgrade of Halfway Boulevard between Downsville Pike and Interstate 81, but was rebuffed by Winstead and other state officials, who said they have a policy not to give money to support projects on locally-owned roads.
Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook thanked the state officials for what they have done and reiterated the importance of Halfway Boulevard to the future of the county.
The commissioners are counting on commercial and industrial development of an 1,800-acre tract of land west of the Halfway interchange to provide jobs and to fill the county's underused Conococheague Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Winstead also said the state highway trust fund, which is paid for by gas tax revenue, appeared healthy for the next three years but will probably need additional revenues in the future. Winstead noted that the state hasn't increased the gas tax for five years.