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W.Va. officials welcome plan for I-81 barrier

February 28, 2001

W.Va. officials welcome plan for I-81 barrier



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The West Virginia Division of Highways may put a barrier between the six-lane stretch of Interstate 81 under construction, officials said Wednesday.

Reaction was largely positive among Berkeley County, W.Va., officials to a plan to put a barrier between northbound and southbound traffic.

A release Wednesday indicated some kind of barrier may be installed between the South King Street interchange and the North Martinsburg interchange, once the freeway is widened from four to six lanes. Construction is under way.

"I have heard a lot of concerns from the elected officials from Berkeley County and from many citizens in the area and believe they may have merit," said state Highways Commissioner Fred VanKirk. "This would also give the Division of Highways an opportunity to gauge the value of a barrier under those conditions."

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When finished, the highway will have 36 feet between the edges of the inside travel lanes. Under national design guidelines for highways of this type and amount of traffic, the installation of a guardrail is optional, highways officials said.

Some local officials, including the Berkeley County Commission, had written state officials asking that a barrier be considered. State officials had said shoulders on the lanes and a grass strip in the median met safety standards.

As additional sections of I-81 are upgraded to six lanes, the barrier may be installed for 11 miles from the Tablers Station Interchange to the Spring Mills Interchange, VanKirk said in the release

The County Commission will discuss the issue tonight at its regular meeting in Martinsburg.

"It's an excellent step forward from the state Division of Highways," said Commission President Howard Strauss. "We would like for the Division of Highways to provide us more information about what kind of barriers they are considering."

The release references a "cable-type barrier," noting similar barriers are being installed in medians in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. Gary Long, district construction engineer for this part of the state, said he was unfamiliar with that term to describe a barrier.

Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith said any barrier would be an improvement over grass, but said he believes a high concrete barrier is the best answer.

Some, including County Commissioner Robert Burkhart, have voiced concern that traffic that leaves the road would bounce off the barrier and back into the lane of traffic.

"Better to have them in their own lane than to go into the other lane where there's almost certainly going to be much more damage," Smith said. He called the cable barrier "a step forward, but not what's necessary."

Burkhart suggested a guardrail barrier in the middle of the median might be the answer, although Smith has said large trucks cut right through such barriers and over to the other side.

Martinsburg City Manager Mark Baldwin said city leaders have not taken a stand on barriers, but said the state must do all it can to protect the public.

"You're going to have four exits in 3 1/2 miles between exit 16 and exit 12," he said. "We would hope the state would take a real strong look as to where those barriers should be located."

City officials have discussed what speed limit should be imposed through the city corridor. A lower speed limit and barriers may provide the kind of safety city officials would want.

"These things are done in other places," Baldwin said. "There's got to be a reason."

City officials have discussed whether the state should have a separate lane for local traffic using the interstate to get around town.

County Commission members will ask for public comment tonight as they hold their first-ever regular night meeting, which will be held at 119 W. King Street instead of at the courthouse across the street.

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