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I-81 widening in Martinsburg

January 08, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Interstate 81 construction projects set to begin this spring will help bring Berkeley County up to speed with the area's development boom, officials said.

The planned widening of the King Street bridge over I-81 from two to five lanes could begin as early as April and will mark the beginning of five I-81 projects designed to improve traffic flow through Berkeley County, said Randy Epperly.

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Epperly, the deputy state highway engineer for project development in Charleston, said the I-81 plans are a reaction to the amount of traffic already in the county and should accommodate continued growth over the next 20 years.

Epperly laid out the following timetable for the I-81 projects:

* The $4.5 million King Street bridge widening will begin in spring and is expected to be completed by spring of next year.

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* A $4 million improvement to the W.Va. 9 interchange of I-81 should begin in March or April and should be finished by the fall of 2000.

* Construction of a new $6.5 million exit interchange for Martinsburg City Hospital will start in August and should be finished by summer 2001.

* The $7 million widening of a two-mile stretch of the north and south lanes of I-81 from King Street to W.Va. 9 is set to begin in late summer and should be done by late next year.

* A $9.5 million widening of the three miles of I-81 in both directions from W.Va. 9 to W.Va. 901 could begin early next year and be done by late 2001.

Epperly said the widening projects will provide an additional lane in both directions and increase the freeway's "break point" capacity from 38,000 cars to 60,000 cars daily.

Additional widening of I-81 will be needed for better traffic flow, but Epperly said additional funds are needed for that to happen. Eighty percent of the funds for the current projects are coming from the federal government, he said.

While the prospect of construction crews might strike fear in the hearts of commuters, Epperly said crews will not have to close any lanes of the freeway.

"I expect a few minor delays with people slowing in work areas and taking a look around, but that's natural," he said.

Bob Crawford, the executive director of the Berkeley County Development Authority, said the I-81 project and the expansion of sewer and water service along I-81's southern corridor will make the county attractive to future residential and commercial development.

Crawford said the I-81 work will relieve congestion while the addition of sewer and water lines will allow for "explosive" growth.

John Mallett, senior industrial representative with the West Virginia Development Authority, said roads are a critical factor when industries are choosing a site.

"The better the infrastructure, the better the opportunity to attract potential employers," Mallett said.

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