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Discussions about widening W.Va. 9

June 24, 2005|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA.

charlestown@herald-mail.com

The idea has not received much attention recently, but local officials began pushing Thursday night for a way to build a four-lane W.Va. 9 from Martinsburg, W.Va., to Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

Much of the focus in expanding W.Va. 9 from two to four lanes has centered on the section between Martinsburg and Charles Town, and construction is under way on that leg of the project.

During a meeting with local officials and state highway officials at the Old Charles Town Library, it was suggested that the state consider building a four-lane W.Va. 9 that would extend from the Tablers Station Road exit along Interstate 81 south of Martinsburg west to Berkeley Springs.

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Building a four-lane road would be easier than building the road near the current W.Va. 9 corridor, said Jerry Mays, a member of the Eastern Panhandle Transportation Authority.

It would be easier because the road could be built in areas where there is not as much development, Mays said.

Also, the road would open a "tremendous economic corridor" between Martinsburg and Berkeley Springs, Mays said.

State Sen. John Unger cautioned against exploring a new way of expanding W.Va. 9 to Berkeley Springs. Unger said the problem with extending W.Va. 9 from Tablers Station Road is that it would not address heavy traffic moving from Martinsburg to Hedgesville along the current two-lane W.Va. 9.

Regardless of which route might be the best, there is no money for such a project, state highway officials said.

Although the state could possibly get $80 million to $100 million more in federal funding for highway projects, the tricky part is coming up with $20 million in matching funds to secure the money, West Virginia Commissioner of Highways Paul Mattox Jr. said.

The conversation turned to other ways of funding local highway projects.

Mattox told local officials at the meeting they should lobby members of Congress for more funding.

Unger, D-Berkeley, said he would like to see some partnerships between local government officials and developers where the developers would share in the cost of building roads.

Otherwise, the area is stuck with relying on "pennies falling from heaven," Unger said.

Unger brought local officials and state highway officials together to talk about local transportation needs as part of his "Operation Our Road Ahead" initiative.

The effort involves bringing top state officials to the Eastern Panhandle to address issues of concern to the growing area.

State highways officials are expanding W.Va. 9 to four lanes for several reasons, including accommodating increasing population growth in the region.

Construction on the new road is under way in the Kearneysville, W.Va., and Bardane, W.Va., areas in Jefferson County. State highway officials have said that the section between Charles Town and Martinsburg could be completed by 2007.

The section from Charles Town east to the Virginia line should be completed or under construction by 2011, Mattox said.

Completion of the four-lane road is a priority for the state, Secretary of Transportation Danny Ellis said.

"We may not get everything developed as quickly as we like, but we will persevere," Ellis said.

The Eastern Panhandle Transportation Authority, which works to address road needs in the Panhandle, presented state highway officials with a resolution in support of widening W.Va. 9.

Widening the road from the Virginia line to Berkeley Springs is vital because population growth threatens to "completely overwhelm" existing transportation infrastructure, the resolution said.

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