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W.Va. highway projects delayed

February 13, 2001|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

W.Va. highway projects delayed



MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Design work for three major highway projects in the Eastern Panhandle will be postponed as part of an effort to save money for other highway projects in the state, the state Division of Highways said Tuesday.

Design work will be postponed on the proposed Martinsburg bypass, the new four-lane W.Va. 9 from Martinsburg to Berkeley Springs and a proposal to expand U.S. 340 to four lanes in Jefferson County, according to state highway engineer Joe Deneault.

A section of U.S. 522 that was to be upgraded in Morgan County, W.Va., also will be put on hold, according to Deneault.

Ongoing construction on Interstate 81 in Berkeley County and a proposal to expand W.Va. 9 to four lanes from Martinsburg to the Virginia line will not be affected, Deneault said.

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The decision to stop design work on the proposed Martinsburg bypass pleased a local resident who has been vocal in her concerns about the project.

Cheryl Long, a spokeswoman for the Berkeley County Citizens Coalition, is among a number of local residents who complain that the highways department uses outdated figures to reach conclusions when planning highway projects, does not take citizen concerns seriously into consideration and rushes to judgement on road designs without considering public input.

"This is just incredible news. This gives us a chance to become a partner with the Division of Highways, to plan our community correctly," Long said.

Statewide, 76 highway design contracts have been cancelled, which is expected to free up nearly $94 million for construction and other activities that represent "a more immediate need," according to a release from Highways Commissioner Fred VanKirk. The release did not say what the $94 million will be used for.

VanKirk, the new highways commissioner under Gov. Bob Wise, said the design work will be rescheduled for a later date "when it will actually be needed."

VanKirk said it is unwise public policy for the department to do design work when "even the most optimistic forecasts show that funds will not be available to do construction for many years."

"Certainly the previous administration was being overly optimistic on how funding might be available." said Deneault.

Members of the Berkeley County Citizens Coalition have expressed concern about how the proposed bypass around Martinsburg would affect the quality of life in the area. Long has said the many interesections on the proposed bypass could increase development pressures.

The highways department is considering other possible routes for the bypass, Deneault said. Once that work is completed, the department will choose a preferred route, he said.

But design work will not proceed on the project, Deneault said.

If this action puts the project on the back burner, it's "not a good sign," said Martinsburg City Manager Mark Baldwin.

Baldwin said he did not want to jump to conclusions about what the action means for the project. He said the city needs to contact highway officials to learn the status of the project.

Berkeley County Commission President Howard Strauss said he thinks the delay will give people who are concerned about the project more time to offer input.

In its proposal to expand W.Va. 9 from Martinsburg to Berkeley Springs, the highways department has selected a 2,000-foot corridor where various possible routes could run.

"That's as far as we're going at this point," Deneault said.

The rest of the W.Va. 9 widening project will proceed as planned because U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd has already earmarked $100 million for the construction, Deneault said.

In Jefferson County, the highways department had planned widening U.S. 340 from Charles Town south to the Virginia line, a project that was expected to cost between $24.9 million and $41 million.

The highways department will continue a location study for the road, but will not proceed to the design stage, said Deneault.

In Morgan County, the highways department is designing an improvement for U.S. 522 that will stretch from Winchester Grade Road to Davis Road. The design work will be completed, but there is no money for right-of-way acqusition or construction, Deneault said.

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