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Leaders want a six-lane I-81

July 27, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A group of Hagerstown business leaders put pressure on Washington County lawmakers Monday to come up with a way to widen Interstate 81 to six lanes before traffic congestion on the highway becomes unmanageable.

The comments came during the 14th annual Quad-State Conference, at which lawmakers from Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania discussed the needs of communities along the I-81 corridor.

West Virginia has started work on expanding I-81 from four to six lanes, and Virginia has spent $17 million for engineering studies to begin expanding it to six lanes.

But Maryland and Pennsylvania have not started engineering studies to widen I-81, said William Barton, a member of The Greater Hagerstown Committee Inc., a group of Hagerstown business leaders that was formed to address economic development issues in Washington County.

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Barton said widening I-81 is crucial if the highway is to handle the growth it is already experiencing.

Between 1993 and 1998, traffic volume increased 25 percent on I-81, and has increased 4 percent since last year, Barton told lawmakers.

Barton said he projects traffic volume on the road will continue to grow by about 5 percent a year.

The problem will be compounded when replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Washington, D.C., begins within a year, Barton said.

Traffic tie-ups caused by the bridge replacement likely will cause a lot of traffic along I-95 to switch to I-81 to find a better route, Barton said.

Barton said he is concerned about the impact on the local segment of I-81 when some parts of it are six lanes and others are four.

"I'm imagining the bottleneck we will experience. This is one of those projects that has to be a cooperative and coordinated project. This problem will not go away," said Barton, a Hagerstown attorney.

Maryland State Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington, one of the organizers of Monday's conference at the Holiday Inn, agreed that the lack of engineering studies for the Washington County portion of I-81 is "disappointing."

Munson said no studies have been done because there are too many highway projects in Maryland and not enough money.

Munson told the gathering that it's an important issue.

"I-81 is our lifeblood. That's why we're here today," he said.

Greg Pecoraro, Maryland's assistant secretary of transportation, said the plan to widen I-81 is getting attention, but still is comes down to money.

Pennsylvania State Sen. Terry Punt, R-Franklin, said there are too many resurfacing projects under way in Pennsylvania to pay for engineering studies on the widening of I-81. Pennsylvania is waiting for federal funding to do the studies, said Punt, who also attended the Quad-State Conference.

West Virginia has started work on a $7 million project to widen I-81 from four to six lanes between King Street and the W.Va. 9/Berkeley Springs exit.

Another $9.5 million has been earmarked for widening the freeway to six lanes from the Berkeley Springs exit to the W.Va. 901 exit.

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