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Hopes rise for new I-81 exit

March 26, 1998|By AMY WALLAUER

Hopes rise for new I-81 exit

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Martinsburg is one step closer to getting an exit off Interstate 81 near City Hospital after a six-year highway funding bill was approved Tuesday by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote on the bill within two weeks. In April, the House and Senate will convene and make final recommendations.

U.S. Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va., said the I-81 exit is one of several projects in the bill. Others include widening a section of U.S. 340 in Jefferson County from two lanes to four lanes, and adding a left-turn lane on W.Va. 9 at Short Road.

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"Sometimes I'm able to get money specifically earmarked for a project. Even if those demonstration projects are knocked out, there's additional money coming which can be used for I-81 or other projects," Wise said. "The 81 exit, I think, is looking very good."

If the projects aren't included in the final bill, West Virginia will still receive additional highway funds, which could be used for the new exit, Wise said.

"I think it's going to happen anyway because the interest has grown. A lot of coalitions have supported it," Wise said. "The only question is when will they have the money to do it and I'm trying to cut through that problem."

Under the package, the state will receive $500 million more in federal highway money - a 42 percent increase over current highway spending in the next six years, Wise said.

It's unknown how much of that $500 million could be slated for the I-81 project. Funding levels will be decided when final negotiations take place between the House and Senate.

If the money is not slated for specific projects, the state highway department decides how the money is used, Wise said.

An additional I-81 exit is necessary to keep up with the county's growth and provide easier access to City Hospital for emergency vehicles, Wise said.

If approved, the project won't necessarily be completed in six years. The highway department determines which projects come first, he said.

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