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Bike path to shadow new W.Va. 9

August 30, 1999|By JULIE E. GREENE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle has plenty of busy highways and narrow roads, prompting at least three groups to work for safer paths for bicyclists and pedestrians.

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The most successful push so far would add a bike path to the expansion of W.Va. 9 between Charles Town and Martinsburg.

The West Virginia Division of Highways recently agreed to put a bike path outside the shoulder of the W.Va. 9 expansion, said Ben Hark, head of the environmental section in the division's engineering department.

The bike path will be included in the final design for the highway expansion, according to an Aug. 4 letter from Hark.

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A fence will separate the path from the shoulder, said Dave Clevenger, head of consultant review in the engineering division.

Bicyclists will be able to ride along the road's shoulder, which will be at least 6 feet wide, on the stretch between Charles Town and Virginia, including on the bridge to be built across the Shenandoah River, Clevenger said.

The inclusion of a bike path in the project is great news for the Panhandle Alternate Transportation Alliance, which has been lobbying for the path for eight years.

"It makes me feel great," said Bill Chesley, one of the alliance members who spearheaded the lobbying effort.

"I just think, for the younger people, having a place to bike safely is just great," Chesley said.

The path, which may be complete in 2003, will help provide a safe route for bicyclists, several biking enthusiasts said.

The 16-mile separate path probably will start near the Burr Industrial Park and end at Martinsburg near the Eastern Regional Jail, Chesley said.

While that path is too close to a four-lane highway to be peaceful, it could be a connector to other bike paths, cyclists said.

Another group, the Metropolitan Planning Organization is seeking local government funding for a bike path between Charles Town and Harpers Ferry, said Bob Gordon of the Eastern Panhandle Regional Planning and Development Council.

The 11-mile path with rest stops and signs would cost $947,000. Its recommended route is north from Harpers Ferry toward Engle Road and back toward Charles Town along a scenic route.

And trustees for the George Washington Heritage Trail want the state to widen the highways that comprise the trail to provide a shoulder for cyclists, said Kim Reid, a trustee.

The almost 112-mile-long Heritage Trail goes through Berkeley Springs, Martinsburg and Charles Town, Reid said.

Paths would make it easier for people to bike from areas in the Panhandle to Washington, D.C., taking them near a bike trail that runs from D.C. and Purcellville, Va., said biking enthusiast Mona Kissel.

Such a variety of bike paths would make it easier for people to bike to work and would attract tourists, said Cecelia Mason, 40, of Martinsburg.

"Nobody likes to ride in the same place every day, said Mason, who mountain and road bikes.

Many Panhandle cyclists ride in Maryland, which has biker-friendly roads and scenic views, cyclists said.

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