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Money is unknown factor in U.S. 340 expansion plan

November 19, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - State Division of Highways officials on Tuesday unveiled their latest proposal for widening U.S. 340 to four lanes through a southern section of Jefferson County.

During an informational workshop for the public at Page Jackson Elementary School, highway officials said they favor a route known as Alternative 4, which they say will be cheaper to build than other routes and will have less of an impact on historical properties.

Despite all the work that has gone into the project, one issue remains: There is no money to build the road.

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About $120 million in federal funds have been designed for widening nearby W.Va. 9 to four lanes, but funding for U.S. 340 is at a standstill, highway officials said.

So why go through all the preparations?

Division of Highways spokesman Dave Clevenger said it is necessary to accept citizens' comments about the project and continue planning the new road in case federal funding for the road becomes available.

If the state waited on funding for the road to do the preliminary work, there would not be enough time to carry out the duties, Clevenger said.

Clevenger said it is tough to determine when funding might be forthcoming for the new highway.

"I wish I had a crystal ball to tell you. I have no idea," Clevenger said.

Three years ago, highways officials started talking about widening U.S. 340 from two to four lanes from the southern end of the Charles Town bypass to the Virginia line.

Highway officials say a large amount of traffic traveling on the road warrants the expansion, which could cost $24.1 million to $39.2 million, depending on which route is chosen.

Six routes have been considered by the highways department and all of them had an impact on historical properties, according to a report explaining the project, which was handed out to residents at Tuesday afternoon's workshop.

Of the routes considered, highway officials decided Alternative 4 would be the best because of its minimal effects on historical properties, homes and businesses, the report said.

At a cost of $24.3 million to build, it is the second-cheapest route, the report said.

Alternative 4 would require the relocation of two homes, the report said. By comparison, Alternative 9 would take out 12 homes and Alternative 1 would affect seven homes, the report said.

Alternative 4 would force four businesses to relocate, while Alternative 9 would force out two businesses and Alternative 1 would affect five businesses, the report said.

The current U.S. 340 is four lanes as it goes through Charles Town and into Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

Like most proposed highway projects in the Eastern Panhandle, the preferred route received a mix of reactions during the workshop, which was held from 4 to 7 p.m.

At one point, about 25 people were in the room, looking at maps of the road and questioning highway officials.

Caleb Burns Jr. said 20 percent of the new road will go through his 400-acre cattle and crop farm, and he wants highway officials to consider other alternatives.

"I'm afraid it's falling on deaf ears," Burns said.

Alternative 4 was one of two routes taken off the table last year, Burns said.

"We thought we were safe," he said.

Farmers like rectangular-shaped fields to raise crops because they are easier to work in, Burns said.

Burns said the new road will cut diagonally through his fields, creating triangles.

Despite the obstacles, Burns said he plans to continue farming on Birdland Farm if the project comes through the property.

While Burns was having second thoughts about the state's plans, June Adams was ready for the construction equipment to start rolling.

Cars and trucks are traveling too fast on the current U.S. 340, and the new road is needed to divert the traffic, said Adams, who runs the Gunny Sack Quilt Studio near the intersection of Withers Larue Road and U.S. 340.

Adams watches traffic whiz past her store window and she cringes when school buses try to edge out into U.S. 340 traffic from Withers Larue Road.

"Sometimes the trucks go by so fast, I don't even see them. We need it so so bad," Adams said, referring to the new road.

Clevenger said some people at the meeting were upset about the proposed road going through their property, and that is understandable.

Minor changes can be made to Alternative 4 based on the comments from citizens, Clevenger said.

Clevenger said his department could choose another route if a lot of people voiced concerns.

"But there would have to be a reason," Clevenger said.

Citizens' input is part of an Environmental Impact Statement for the project, which could be completed by next spring, the report said.

After a comment period on the statement, a "record of decision" will be prepared by state and federal highway officials that gives federal approval for the highway construction to begin, Clevenger said.




Preferred plan


Alternative 4, which is the preferred plan of the state Division of Highways, begins south of the state line between West Virginia and Virginia, and generally follows the existing road for 1.4 miles.

The route then turns east, crosses Meyerstown Road on the east side of Rippon, W.Va., and turns north toward Wheatland, finally reaching the southern tip of the four-lane bypass.

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