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Construction on W.Va. 9 said to be a priority

August 28, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Ground should be broken late this fall in Bardane, W.Va., on the first section of a new four-lane W.Va. 9 that will connect Martinsburg to Charles Town, state Division of Highways officials said Tuesday.

The new, approximately 10-mile road, which will not encompass any portions of the existing two-lane W.Va. 9, could be finished in 2005, said state highway engineer Joe Deneault.

A high rate of traffic accidents and fatalities, combined with heavy use of the road by commuters and residents, make finishing the project a state priority, officials said.

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"Route 9 has an accident rate that is far above the state average for two-lane roadways," deputy state highway engineer Randy Epperly said.

Such statistics are measured in how many accidents occur for every 1 million vehicle miles logged on the road. The state average for a rural, two-lane highway is 210 accidents per 1 million miles. Route 9 has a rate of 278 accidents.

The rate of accidents with an injury is 44 percent above the state average, and the rate of fatalities is 76 percent above average, Epperly said.

Earlier this summer, three people were killed on W.Va. 9 near the Opequon Creek bridge outside Martinsburg when a dump truck collided with six cars. That driver had cocaine in his system at the time, police allege, and faces criminal charges.

After they received the go-ahead on July 25 from federal highway officials, state Division of Highways officials plan to start buying some of the 35 properties needed to build the new road, Epperly said.

Highway officials already own the parcel in Bardane.

Construction on two additional sections of the four-lane road is to begin next spring, Deneault said, and construction on the remaining sections should be under way by early 2004.

With a cost of $8 million to $10 million per mile of construction, the entire project could cost $80 million to $100 million, Deneault said. Each section will take about 18 months to complete, he said.

Cars will be allowed on the sections of the road as they are finished, Deneault said.

Five access points, in the form of on- and off-ramps, and one intersection will dot the new four-lane, Epperly said. Unlike the existing W.Va. 9, the four-lane version will not have any driveways or small business entrances, Epperly said.

The existing W.Va. 9 will be used as a local service road, Epperly said.

Controversy was not absent from the plan for the four-lane, which was proposed in the early 1990s, Deneault said. Several people objected, saying the road would be detrimental to historic property in the area.

After listening to the concerns, highway officials picked a route that required the least amount of acquisitions, did not affect a wetland behind Baker Heights and had the least impact on historic properties, officials said.

"We believe we've addressed every concern," Deneault said.

Overall, W.Va. 9 consists of three separate sections: One connects Martinsburg to Charles Town, a second connects Charles Town to the Virginia state line and a third connects Martinsburg to Berkeley Springs and then continues south to Virginia.

Construction on the 4 1/2-mile section of W.Va. 9 from Charles Town to Virginia began earlier this year, but was halted when several groups and individuals filed lawsuits in opposition to the project. They claim highway officials did not obtain a necessary permit to build a bridge over the Shenandoah River, and that the government failed to examine ways the existing two-lane road could be made safer and affect less historic property.

Construction should resume when the suits are settled, Epperly said. Accident rates on that section are as bad or worse as the Martinsburg-to-Charles Town section, he said.

Plans are also under way for a four-lane road on the Martinsburg-to-Berkeley Springs section. A corridor for that road has been selected, but highway officials do not plan to begin construction there until the other two sections are finished, Epperly said.

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