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State: Concrete holds up well in Panhandle

August 27, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A West Virginia Division of Highways official on Thursday defended the agency's decision to change the surface of the planned four-lane W.Va. 9 from asphalt to concrete, saying the cost of a concrete road was nearly the same as an asphalt one.

Another reason for the change: Concrete roads have held up well in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, said Randy Epperly, deputy state highway engineer.

Epperly's comments come after two Eastern Panhandle lawmakers criticized the highways department over its decision.

Del. Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson, and state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, expressed displeasure that the surface for the new road between Martinsburg, W.Va., and Charles Town was being changed so late in the road design process.

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Tabb said he wants to know if the decision was politically motivated, and the two lawmakers said they were worried that the decision might drive up the cost of the project and delay it.

The highways department decided to change the surface of the road to concrete even though Jefferson Asphalt Products Co. had already been selected to pave a section of the road.

Epperly said the decision was based on a numbers analysis and had nothing to do with politics.

The Division of Highways began reconsidering the surface for the road after some concrete companies, including Capitol Cement Corp. in Martinsburg, asked the highways department to re-examine the issue, Epperly said.

The companies were interested in having a part of the "market share," Epperly said.

When highways officials considered how much it would cost to build the road and maintain it over a 40-year period, they determined that concrete would cost only about 2 percent or 3 percent more compared with asphalt, Epperly said.

Concrete roads have held up well in the Eastern Panhandle, Epperly said. An example is the Charles Town Bypass, which was finished in 1991.

"It essentially looks the same as the day it was put down," Epperly said.

Epperly said he assured Tabb on Thursday that the switch to concrete would not cause delays in the construction of the road.

A state highway official said Wednesday it is tough to determine a completion date for the road, but Epperly said he believes it could be done by the fall of 2007.

Unger, who said Wednesday he was "absolutely outraged" over the Division of Highways' decision, said he remained skeptical Thursday that changing the road surface will not result in delays.

The highways department had already begun the bidding process for an asphalt surface and now that work will have to be repeated for a concrete surface, Unger said.

"The people of the Eastern Panhandle are getting fed up with the Department of Highways," Unger said Thursday.

Unger said he wants the Division of Highways to hold a public hearing to allow local residents to get information such as specific timelines on when parts of the road are expected to be finished.

It is important for people to have the information because some people who live near the current W.Va. 9 have had trouble selling their homes because it is unclear whether the houses will have to be torn down, Unger said.

Epperly said highway officials would be willing to hold such a meeting.

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