Work on alternate route won't start until at least 2009

November 30, 1999|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. ? The construction of an alternate route to Martinsburg's often-congested North Queen Street and its cramped underpass is not expected to begin until at least 2009, said Gregory Bailey, Engineering Division director for the West Virginia Division of Highways.

Estimated to cost about $25 million and possibly more, the estimated 1.2-mile road known as the Raleigh Street Extension will connect West Race Street in Martinsburg's historic district to Edwin Miller Boulevard on the city's north end.

"We probably have enough money (now) to do all the engineering and purchase the right of way," Bailey said Thursday.

At least $11 million has been identified for the project, and state highway officials are moving ahead with retaining a design consultant and doing environmental work, Bailey said.

"It's rare for us to a have a complete funding package in place when a project begins," Bailey said of the current financial picture.


But if the additional money needed for construction was available, the project could "absolutely" be expedited, Bailey said.

The project to extend Raleigh Street from downtown to the city's northern end was jump-started in 2005 by U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller's joint announcement of $10 million in federal spending authority for the project. Before that, it had been discussed for decades with little progress, officials have said.

Aside from the federal allocation, the Martinsburg City Council has set aside $1 million. Mayor George Karos last week "doubted very seriously" that additional money could be identified this year. The city's 2007-08 fiscal year budget included no new money for the road.

A $1 million appropriation backed by Republican U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito passed the U.S. House of Representatives last year, but died in the Senate when Democrats regained control of Congress, restarted the budgeting process and eliminated the earmark.

Though now in the minority in Congress, Capito regained her seat on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and is expected to make another bid for funding for the project this year.

Byrd spokesman Tom Gavin said Friday that appropriations bills for the 2008 federal fiscal year likely will be written and approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in June. Byrd chairs the powerful committee.

"For road and highway construction, Senator Byrd has always focused on critical projects in the Eastern Panhandle," said Gavin, adding that $150 million appropriated for improvements to W.Va. 9 was an example.

State Sen. John Unger, who chairs the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, confirmed Friday that community leaders are considering the possibility of asking Byrd to reappropriate $13 million in federal spending authority earmarked for the Martinsburg Bypass, also announced in 2005, to the Raleigh Street Extension.

"It's no secret that we're trying to do that," said Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson.

The bypass is projected to easily surpass $100 million, and Bailey said last week that very little, if any, of the money for it had been spent. Unger hopes community leaders come together to support funding for the Raleigh Street Extension.

"The argument is that the Martinsburg Bypass and Raleigh Street Extension objectives are the same," Unger said of efforts to relieve congestion in the city.

"If Raleigh Street is built, I don't think there's going to be a need for the bypass for a while," said Unger, who believes widening W.Va. 9 from Martinsburg to Morgan County is more important than the bypass.

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