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Cities seek funding for transportation projects

May 28, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The cities of Charles Town and Ranson, W.Va., are seeking more than $42 million in federal funds to pay for several major economic revitalization and transportation projects, including a proposal to help pay for extending a MARC commuter line through the two cities and onto the planned 3,800-home Huntfield development, officials said.

Funding requests include:

-- $30 million to pay for construction of a highway bypass near the western edge of Charles Town and Ranson.

-- $8 million for planning and various other expenses that could arise in connection with extending the MARC line. Those could include upgrading the line or purchasing train engines or passenger cars, Charles Town City Council member Matt Ward said.

-- $4 million to improve the safety and appearance of two main entranceways to Charles Town and Ranson.

-- $650,000 to begin clearing land in the North Street area of Charles Town, where officials from the two cities are hoping to redevelop an area of abandoned commercial buildings.

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-- An $80,000 request by Charles Town officials for laptop computers and other high-tech equipment for the Charles Town Police Department to help officers investigate crime more effectively, city officials said.

The cities may not get all the money they're seeking, but at least it will lay out a plan for the area as it prepares for population growth, said Ward, who worked on the proposals.

The cities can make additional funding requests in coming years for any money they do not receive, Ward said.

"We're looking well over the horizon," Ward said Tuesday.

Ranson City Manager David Mills said Ward orchestrated most of the work.

"We think it was well thought out," Mills said.

A Norfolk Southern railroad line already extends to the Huntfield property, Ward said. The line starts at a MARC line in Shenandoah Junction, W.Va., and runs about 7 miles south through Ranson and Charles Town and onto Huntfield, Ward said.

Charles Town and Ranson city officials say the commuter line is their top priority, given the residential housing growth expected in the area in coming years and the popularity of the MARC line among commuters.

Ward said he talked with MARC officials, who agreed the cities could seek the funding for extending the line and turn it over to the commuter service to use in doing the work.

Nearly 5,000 houses have been approved for Charles Town and another 5,000 homes are expected to be approved in Ranson, which together could increase the county's population by 25,000 in 20 years, Charles Town Mayor Randy Hilton and Ranson Mayor David Hamill said in a letter to U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

"Obviously, such a population influx would bring major transportation challenges - estimated at 80,000 additional vehicle trips daily - making transportation planning a critical priority," Hilton and Hamill said in the letter.

"The key to clean, efficient transportation choices for Jefferson County will be the MARC commuter train line," Hilton and Hamill said.

Officials have proposed building a train station at Huntfield, which would be the end of the commuter line.

Negotiations would be needed between MARC, CSX and Norfolk Southern for the commuter line to be established, Ward said.

Charles Town and Ranson officials say they want to build a highway bypass to the west of the two cities because that is where much of the residential growth will occur.

Without a western bypass to reach points north, south and east of Charles Town and Ranson, motorists will have to drive through already clogged streets in the two towns to reach their destinations, Hilton and Hamill said in their letter.

Revitalization has been a priority for Charles Town officials, who are conducting a $7.1 million makeover of the downtown shopping area. Charles Town and Ranson officials say more such work is needed for two main eastern entrance ways to the cities. The Charles Town entrance is on Washington Street between the Charles Town Bypass and Samuel Street, and in Ranson, it is at 5th Avenue between the bypass and Marshall Street, Hilton and Hamill said.

The mayors said the areas are "jumbled and unsafe" for the 25,000 motorists entering the towns and Charles Town Races & Slots. They said $4 million is needed to re-engineer the W.Va. 51 and 5th Avenue corridors, and add pedestrian facilities and streetscape enhancements.

Charles Town and Ranson have received $250,000 in federal money for the redevelopment of abandoned commercial buildings near North Street. Since that money was awarded, Charles Town and Ranson officials have drafted a development plan, hired staff to help guide the project and hired environmental and economic consultants to help, Hilton said in a letter to U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.

The $650,000 would be used to prepare land on some already owned by the cities, and help pave the way for public-private partnerships to redevelop privately owned sites, Ward said.

City officials are seeking $730,000 through Byrd's office for the projects and the rest through Capito's office.

Although Byrd has "always tried to be a good steward for the Eastern Panhandle," it is too early to predict how successful the requests will be, said Byrd spokesman Tom Gavin.

Gavin said there are many critical funding projects Byrd will have to consider this year for the Eastern Panhandle.

The funds Ranson and Charles Town officials are requesting would come out of the 2004 federal appropriations process, which should be completed around Oct. 1, Gavin said.

Officials from Capito's office could not elaborate on the funding requests Tuesday.

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