The three men tossed aside several shovelfuls of ceremonial dirt, marking the beginning of the widening of the road from two to four lanes from Charles Town, W.Va., to Martinsburg, W.Va.
The segment of W.Va. 9 lies among two industrial parks owned by Jefferson County government, VanKirk said.
The highways department was able to move ahead on the segment because the state had acquired the land needed for the project from the county years ago, VanKirk said.
The project will be quickly followed by other segments of the highway, which will extend to the Charles Town Bypass to the east and to Kearneysville, W.Va., to the west, VanKirk said.
The three segments should be completed by 2005, VanKirk said. He said later at a town meeting in Martinsburg that the entire project from Charles Town to Martinsburg also could be completed by 2005.
Wise announced the first phase of the W.Va. 9 widening two years ago. That segment, between Cattail Road and U.S. 340, since has been halted because of two federal lawsuits challenging the design of the road.
Wise said that while other states have had to pull back on spending due to tough economic times, West Virginia has found ways to invest $2 billion in roads, bridges and other forms of development to keep the state's future bright.
"Route 9 is certainly one of those significant investments," Wise said. He called Byrd the "quarterback" of the state's team, looking ahead to the state's transportation needs and securing the money to get it done.
Byrd, who has secured at least $120 million for the new highway, said the possibility for such projects was instituted in the Constitution when the nation's founding fathers wanted to promote the general welfare of the citizens and promises of liberty.
"Those promises take many forms. They encompass both large and small aspects of our lives. They include that ribbon of highways that stretches across the country, which serves not only as a system of transport for commerce, but also as a part of a national defense strategy that recognized the need to enable evacuation of U.S. population centers. Highways provide for the greater economic opportunity, for a better quality of life, for the general welfare of the people," Byrd said.
Switching to the war, Byrd, who has questioned the need to wage war with Iraq, said it is common for the country to seek leadership from a "single, clear voice" in times of national distress.
On a related note, Wise announced that highways officials are expected to open bids today on proposals for replacement of the James Rumsey Bridge across the Potomac River in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
The bridge is expected to be completed by 2005, highway officials said.