Officials say bypass needs special funding

August 28, 2005|By TRISH RUDDER


State and local officials in Morgan County say obtaining special federal funding is key to getting a bypass built to ease traffic problems on U.S. 522, the thoroughfare that runs through Berkeley Springs.

The high volume of tractor-trailer trucks on U.S. 522 has been a concern for residents and businesses, and in June, a group of Morgan County residents headed by Russell Mokhiber met to discuss the possibility of banning the big rigs from the road through town to alleviate heavy traffic.

Mokhiber and Town of Bath Mayor Susan Webster contacted U.S. Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., to ask for his assistance.


In July, Paul Mattox, the West Virginia Commissioner of Highways, responded to the truck ban proposal.

Mattox wrote that a truck ban would not be recommended.

"It is felt to prohibit traffic on U.S. 522 would increase the already heavy congestion on other local roadways, especially on W.Va. 9 and I-81," he wrote. He noted that a project is under way to create a U.S. 522 bypass for the town of Berkeley Springs.

"Design work is complete on the southern end, but it is estimated that the DOH (Department of Highways) will need an additional $29 million for construction. On the north end of the bypass, design is under way, but this section will require an additional $12 million for construction."

Mattox wrote that a bypass construction project is not scheduled, but if special federal funding were made available, "we will actively proceed toward construction of the bypass."

Noise and traffic

Mokhiber said there is a safety problem on U.S. 522.

"We want restrictions on 522 in the form of weight limits and inspections or a prohibition on pass-through trucks," he said.

Mokhiber said he wants weigh stations placed on the West Virginia side of the Hancock bridge on U.S. 522 North, and north of the Virginia line of U.S. 522 South.

"Whatever we can get at any point to reduce truck traffic on main street will make the quality of life here better," said Carry Noon, who works in Berkeley Springs at the Nature Niche on North Washington Street, which is U.S. 522.

"It is horrible walking down the street, and you can't have a conversation because of the noise pollution by the trucks," Noon said.

Mokhiber said he talked about the situation with Gov. Joe Manchin in Charleston, W.Va., earlier this month. He said Manchin told him to work with Phil Satterfield, an assistant to the governor.

Bypass discussion

Discussions with the West Virginia Department of Highways have centered on a bypass from W.Va. 13 (Winchester Grade Road) on the south to the north side of town around U.S. Silica, said Bill Clark, Morgan County administrator. It would be seven or eight miles long and would only bypass the community, Clark said.

Construction of the four-lane bypass will begin on the north side of U.S. Silica to W.Va. 9. The next phase will be from W.Va. 9 to Winchester Grade Road, Clark said.

An earlier estimated $300 million cost for a bypass around Berkeley Springs was "state line to state line," said Clark, but that no longer is being considered.

State Del. Charles S. Trump, R-Morgan, said that the $300 million was a cost estimate from 10 years ago. Even though the size of the bypass has been reduced, construction costs are considerably higher now, he said.

Morgan County Commissioner Tommy Swaim said he heard an estimated cost of at least $80 million for the project.

"The DOH said if the special funding is available, construction could start in two years," Swaim said.

"People need to let their elected officials know they support the bypass. We need letters from them," he said.

"All three - (U.S. Sen. Robert) Byrd, Rockefeller and (U.S. Rep. Shelly Moore) Capito - will have to push for the money to construct the bypass around the town and construction on the north end of town," Webster said.

Community effort

Clark said he was pleased with the attention Manchin has given the project and said the potential for economic development is enormous.

"If you invest in the Eastern Panhandle, the investment will be returned," Clark said.

Clark said obtaining the bypass will be a community effort of local, state and federal elected officials. If 80 percent in federal funding is allocated for the project, the state has to come up with 20 percent. Clark said he has never known the state not to be able to come up with the 20 percent needed for highway construction projects.

Clark said the federal highway bill recently signed into law gives West Virginia the ability to improve the safety of roads in Putnam County and to build a bypass in Martinsburg, W.Va., both necessary projects.

"We need to make Gov. Manchin aware of how important the project is," Trump said. "I have talked to Gov. Manchin several times on Panhandle issues, and specifically U.S. 522, and he was always receptive."

Public meeting

What: The Morgan County Commission will hold a public meeting to provide a status report on the proposed U.S. 522 bypass.

When: Tuesday, Sept. 13, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Berkeley Springs High School auditorium.

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