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Officials change surface for W.Va. 9 construction

August 26, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - West Virginia highway officials have decided to change the surface of the planned four-lane W.Va. 9 from asphalt to concrete, a move that is generating criticism from lawmakers who fear it will drive up the cost of the project and delay it.

A state highways official said the agency usually considers both asphalt and concrete for a new road in an attempt to determine which is less expensive. But Del. Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson, said he wants to know if the move was politically motivated.

A local firm already was selected to do part of the asphalt paving for the project.

"This is unprecedented," said Mike Thomas, vice president of Jefferson Asphalt Products Co. Inc., the local firm that was awarded a bid in July to pave a little more than a mile of the four-lane road off the north end of the Charles Town Bypass.

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Tabb and Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said they are upset that the road surface for the new road between Martinsburg, W.Va., and Charles Town is being changed so late in the road design process.

"We just need to get on with the design we have. I'm absolutely outraged with the Department of Highways," Unger said Wednesday night.

Tabb is concerned that changing the road surface will increase the cost of the project and delay its completion.

Tabb said he has been told there is a shortage of cement, a component of concrete, and that the price is going up. The price of steel, which is used to strengthen the concrete, also is on the rise, Tabb said.

Thomas said he believes Tabb's concerns over rising costs are "very valid."

Thomas said he looked at the cost analysis that the state Division of Highways used to switch to concrete and he is not convinced that the numbers are sound. Asphalt usually is cheaper and easier to maintain, Thomas said.

Thomas said his firm was prepared to use 100,000 tons of asphalt to pave the section of W.Va. 9 it was hired to complete. Although Jefferson Asphalt still will pave areas associated with the project such as a bike path, the company will only need about 40,000 tons of asphalt to do the work, Thomas said.

Thomas said he is considering different options to convince the state not to change the surface of the road.

A state Division of Highways official said Wednesday he does not know the details behind the decision to change the road surface to concrete.

Greg Bailey, acting section head for the consult and review department in the Division of Highways, declined to comment on Tabb's concern that the decision might be related to politics.

Those are questions best posed to Randy Epperly, deputy state highway engineer for development or state Transportation Secretary Fred VanKirk, Bailey said.

Epperly and VanKirk, who are based in Charleston, W.Va., were out of town Wednesday, Bailey said.

The possibility of increased construction costs because of the concrete surface "certainly is a concern," Bailey said.

A lot of discussion nationally has focused on the cost of concrete, but high costs for the product have not been an issue so far in West Virginia, Bailey said.

Steel prices have increased slightly, but that is mostly for steel used in bridge construction, not that used for concrete reinforcement, Bailey said.

Bailey said he does not believe switching to a concrete surface for W.Va. 9 will push back the completion date of the road. "We can deal with it either way," Bailey said.

Bailey said he could not give a projected completion date for the highway because it depends on the progress of bridge construction projects and pending funding issues.

In addition to the bid awarded to Jefferson Asphalt, two other contracts soon will be put out for bids by the highways department, Bailey said.

Those three contracts together involve the construction of the highway from Charles Town to Kearneysville, W.Va., Bailey said. After those contracts are awarded, the highways department will advertise for bids on two more contracts for the construction of the road from Kearneysville to Martinsburg, Bailey said.

Unger said he is disappointed with much of the W.Va. 9 project. He said when he asks highway officials when work on a particular section of the road will start he receives a projected date on which work will start, but that date usually ends up being pushed back.

"I'm tired of hearing it because they never follow through. We need to get on with it, folks, and stop playing games," Unger said.

Unger said the project has been delayed so long that the federal funding secured for the project by U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd might not be enough to pay for it.

Highway officials estimated last year that the cost of the road could reach about $208 million.

"There's always a fear that the federal government will take (their money) back," Unger said.

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