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Martinsburg bypass plans reach $106 million

January 24, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Steve Parrish was quick to point out a problem he sees with a proposed bypass around Martinsburg which would divert heavy W.Va. 9 traffic from downtown.

Southbound motorists currently entering Martinsburg on Edwin Miller Boulevard - which is also W.Va. 9 - pass by a long stretch of restaurants, businesses, and motels such as the Leisure Inn and the Comfort Inn.

But under one of the four proposed bypass routes, there would be no access to the area around the motels, Parrish said.

Motorists would have to pass by the businesses, then get on a large cloverleaf to get back to the area.

"It will kill the motels on this end of town," said Parrish, vice president of operations for the Aikens Group, which owns a number of business properties along Edwin Miller Boulevard, including the Aikens Center, where the Comfort Inn is located.

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State Division of Highways officials have been planning a bypass for Martinsburg for about three years, and they presented their plans to the public during a meeting Monday at Berkeley Heights Elementary School.

Four different possible routes for the bypass have been developed, and they range in cost from $78.6 million to $106.6 million, according to plans handed out at Monday's meeting. The routes range in length from 5.1 miles to 6.6 miles.

The highway department started hearing about the need for a bypass while conducting public meetings in the area on the proposal to expand W.Va. 9 in the Eastern Panhandle to four lanes, said Dave Clevenger, who works in the engineering division of the Division of Highways.

Although the speed limit on W.Va. 9 is 50 mph, it has been reduced to a low as 15 mph around Martinsburg due to commercial development, unlimited access and school zones, according to highway officials. In town, traffic has to pass through narrow streets and a "skewed railroad underpass," according to the plans.

Also, the number of accidents along W.Va. 9 in the Martinsburg area is almost 50 percent higher than on other state roads of similar classification, the highway department said.

Clevenger said the purpose of Monday's meeting was to bring the public's input into the process. Area residents could submit written comments to the highway department at the meeting. Comments can also be mailed to the department until Feb. 28.

After all comments are received and environmental studies on the four routes are completed, the highway department will hold another public hearing on a preferred alternative, according to Clevenger.

Clevenger and other highway officials fielded questions from residents and addressed concerns. They strongly encouraged residents to put their comments in writing to the department.

"There's been a lot of good comments tonight. We're going to take everyone's comments, study them, and look to see if we need to do some alignment adjustments," Clevenger said.

Highway officials did not realize some of the issues that come into play with the bypass until they came to Martinsburg Monday, Clevenger said.

For example, highway officials were told that a couple of the routes could go through a piece of land on Eagle School Road where the Berkeley County Board of Education is considering building a new school, Clevenger said.

"We'll have to see how that impacts our studies," Clevenger said.

An estimated 200 people came to the meeting to look at maps of the four routes. They found their houses on the maps to see how close the road will come.

Keith Snyder said one of the routes will miss his house by about four blocks, but his brother-in-law's house will have to be torn down.

Snyder said his brother-in-law's business, Minghini Contractors, was already moved to expand W.Va. 9.

"They got his business, now they might get his house," Snyder said.

Highway officials said they do not know when right-of-way acquisition or construction will begin for a bypass.

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