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Residents debate bypass vs. truck ban for U.S. 522

June 16, 2005|by TRISH RUDDER

trishr@herald-mail.com

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - More than 100 people concerned about the increase of truck traffic on U.S. 522 in Berkeley Springs crowded into the Morgan County Courthouse Wednesday to discuss the possibility of banning the big rigs from the highway.

Russell Mokhiber, a Morgan County resident who organized the meeting, said if Virginia can prohibit pass-through tractor-trailer trucks on Va. 17, why can't the state of West Virginia do it for U.S. 522.

Mokhiber said he and other concerned residents want to "get this done before something bad happens." He said from what he has learned regarding Va. 17, "there is no reason why it can't be done" for U.S. 522.

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Jolly deGive of the Crooked Run Valley Association in Delaplane, Va., told the audience how the group successfully organized to get Virginia to ban the trucks from Va. 17 from Delaplane to Paris, Va.

DeGive said it was "a safety issue, and trucks were avoiding the weigh station on Interstate 81." She said the group worked with local and state officials to get the pass-through trucks banned.

The courtroom was full and people were standing in the aisles. Many on hand were in favor of the ban, but some said they thought a bypass would solve the problem.

The discussions were lively and the audience reacted with cheers as well as boos.

Morgan County Commissioner Bob Ford was not in favor of banning trucks from U.S. 522.

"I truly believe to compare Route 17 to U.S. 522 is comparing heaven to hell," he said, drawing boos from the crowd.

Ford said he and the other commissioners went to Charleston, W.Va., to push the idea for a bypass around the town, and "we made it clear to Gov. (Joe) Manchin that we won't be banning trucks on U.S. 522." Ford said that U.S. 522 was the "safest highway in the state of West Virginia."

Jeanne Mozier, vice president of Travel Berkeley Springs, recently attended a tourist industry meeting, and the members said they wanted the trucks out of town, but "no one is certain the bypass is the solution," Mozier said.

"A third of the visitors will say, 'I have driven through your town and I promised myself I would come and visit, and that's why I'm here,'" Mozier said.

"Banning trucks is not the best way to go about it," said Daryl Coles of Coles & Son Construction in Berkeley Springs. "The local problem is too many cars. Build the bypass to solve the greater problem."

Mokhiber said the Federal Highway Administration recently said it was the West Virginia Department of Transportation's responsibility to establish operating criteria for trucks on U.S. 522.

He said the trucks use the highway as the quickest route to and from Interstates 81 and 70. Mokhiber said there have been "near misses of bad accidents involving big trucks" using U.S. 522. According to the state of West Virginia, five of nine fatalities on U.S. 522 that occurred in the last three years involved large trucks.

He said the added interstate distance from I-81 to I-70 was about 10 to 15 minutes more driving the speed limit.

Local trucks or trucks making local deliveries will not be affected by the ban, he said.

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