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Work on 81 aims for safer, wider interstate

April 17, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Those driving along Interstate 81 near Martinsburg are certain to encounter concrete walls, uneven or narrow lanes, construction barrels, bumps and dump trucks.

Highway employees are at work on several projects, including building new rest stop bathroom areas and widening the road from four to six lanes.

Explaining the various projects, Division of Highways Area Engineer Bill Shanklin started at the northern end of the interstate. At the Spring Mills exit, a new bridge that goes over the interstate is nearly finished. One lane is open to traffic, and workers are finishing the other lane, Shanklin said.

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As part of the project, portions of W.Va. 901 that adjoin the bridge will be widened and improved, Shanklin said.

The projected completion date is Oct. 31, but it may be done sooner. "We fully expect the contractor to beat the date," Shanklin said.

The same cannot be said for the project that involves widening the interstate from four to six lanes where it borders Martinsburg, including widening the bridges that cross the Tuscarora Creek. That project is more than six months behind schedule, Shanklin said.

Shanklin said he hopes it will be finished in June. About 85 percent of the work is done, minus additional necessary paving. Highway workers have been tackling that project at night, milling off old asphalt, Shanklin said.

Separately, before work begins near exit 12, highway employees must finish work under way on Foxcroft Avenue behind the Tanger Centre, which is expected to take about four weeks, depending on the weather, Shanklin said.

After that project is finished, the portion of W.Va. 45 that leads to the interstate will be widened, Shanklin said. Because that project is near the other end of Foxcroft Avenue, to ease the strain on motorists it will not be done at the same time as the other project involving Foxcroft, Shanklin said.

Another part of the same job, which can be done before the Foxcroft Avenue project is finished, involves expanding the interstate bridge that crosses W.Va. 45 to six lanes, and adding more shoulder space, Shanklin said.

That entire project is expected to be finished in September 2004.

Nearly finished, except for some minor cleanup, is the project involving adding a new exit for City Hospital, at exit 14.

All of the work is aimed at improving travel.

Drivers who need to rest currently must occasionally stand in line because of too few restroom facilities, Shanklin said. An ongoing project involves building new restroom facilities, with additional toilets, at the Marlowe rest stop, which serves drivers heading south, and the Bunker Hill stop, which serves people heading north.

Men's, women's and a unisex bathroom are expected to open in September. The unisex bathroom should especially be helpful for parents who need to take a child of the opposite sex to the bathroom, Shanklin said.

Built in sections, much of Interstate 81 was finished in the late 1960s, Shanklin said.

A "pavement rehabilitation" project was finished in the 1990s, but did not include any work on bridges, Shanklin said.

In some places outside Martinsburg, six lanes are open.

"We've already noticed less congestion," Shanklin said. "It'll be safer driving, more relaxed driving."

Interstate 81 averages 55,000 cars and trucks on the road a day, Shanklin said, which is above capacity for a two-lane road.

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