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Highway plan moves forward

August 18, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - After nearly a decade of studies and public meetings, a planned four-lane highway to replace W.Va. 9 from Charles Town, W.Va., to the Virginia line could be in the final design stage by later this month, a West Virginia Division of Highways official said Tuesday.

The Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, part of the U.S. Department of Interior, removed the most recent roadblock by ruling against project opponents' contention that much of the highway would run through a historical district, said Ben Hark, head of the Division of Highways' environmental section in Charleston, W.Va.

The ruling means the Division of Highways could start working on the final design for the roughly six miles of construction - estimated to cost $70 million - by later this month or in early September, Hark said.

It will take from eight months to a year to complete, he said.

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With funding for the project secured, construction could be under way in 2000, Hark said.

The federal government will fund 80 percent of the cost and the state the remaining 20 percent, he said.

It's part of a three-phase project to widen and straighten the heavily traveled road from the Virginia line to Berkeley Springs, W.Va., Hark said.

The first phase is to build a four-lane highway, including a new bridge over the Shenandoah River, to replace the windy, two-lane stretch of W.Va. 9 from the Charles Town bypass to the Virginia line, he said.

State officials decided on a route north of the current road - referred to as "line E" - which includes a long bridge over the Shenandoah River and a new interchange on the bypass, Hark said.

Longer than the current road, it is straighter and will cross the river at a higher point, he said.

"It will improve safety and congestion, solve a lot of problems," he said.

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

A preferred route for the 10-mile stretch, estimated to cost $70 million, will be presented at a public meeting this fall, he said.

The third phase, to run from Martinsburg to Berkeley Springs, is several years behind in planning, he said.

While the effect on historical property has been a major concern in the new highway's routing from Charles Town to Martinsburg, project watchdog group Common Sense 9 has had other concerns about the Charles Town-to-Virginia stretch, said President Jane Grissinger.

"We consider it very a wasteful and overly elaborate project. That's been our major objection," said Grissinger, who said her group considers the bridge especially extravagant.

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