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Growth prompts traffic study in Panhandle

September 22, 1999

TrafficBy DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - State highway officials will soon begin a comprehensive study to determine the transportation needs of the Eastern Panhandle and neighboring Washington County in coming years.

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The result could be a road map for area highway improvements over the next two decades.

The study will look at a variety of aspects, from how freight is moved in the region to how public input should be figured into transportation projects, said Dick Warner, head of the Urban Studies Program for West Virginia's Division of Highways.

Parts of the study will forecast trends in transportation 20 years down the road, Warner said.

The study, which will take about a year to complete, is being conducted in cooperation with the Hagerstown-Eastern Panhandle Metropolitan Planning Organization.

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A similar study focusing on Hagerstown was completed in 1997 but included only parts of Jefferson and Berkeley counties, Warner said.

The new study will assess needs in the three Panhandle Counties and Washington County, Warner said.

The study is a result of concerns raised during Gov. Cecil Underwood's Cabinet meeting in Shepherdstown, W.Va., Sept. 2.

Underwood said then he was bringing his Cabinet to the Panhandle to hear concerns from local officials and help dispel the common belief here that Charleston officials ignore the needs of the growing region.

Although Warner could not say what recommendations are likely to come out of the study, there has been concern about how traffic will be controlled in the region in coming years and how counties will be involved in the process.

A group of Hagerstown business leaders put pressure on Washington County lawmakers in July 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 annual Quad-State Conference in Martinsburg, 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 do the same.

Washington County Commissioner John L. Schnebly said he hopes the study will keep the argument for a six-lane I-81 in Washington County at the forefront of transportation talks."It's a priority with us. To continue to develop the north-south commerce, we have to have that improvement," Schnebly said Wednesday.

The study will likely look at traffic needs that are less obvious, said Bob Gordon, transportation program director for the Region 9 Planning and Development Council in Martinsburg.

When a new $6.5 million interchange is built on Interstate 81 to serve City Hospital, Moler Avenue and W.Va. 45 will see increases in traffic and there must be planning to determine how to control that traffic, Gordon said.

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