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Inwood traffic woes to get worse before they get better

January 17, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Traffic in southern Berkeley County is going to get worse before it gets better, a member of a regional transportation group told the Berkeley County Commission on Thursday.

Speaking during a public comment session on Inwood, W.Va., transportation and storm-water management issues, Eastern Panhandle Transportation Authority member Jerry Mays said congestion in Inwood at U.S. 11 and W.Va. 51 will continue to deteriorate until funding is found to give the roads the upgrades they need.

"We've included as many of these projects in as many ways as we can possibly imagine," Mays told the commission Thursday. "I think now the problem remains that it's a matter of funding."

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Among the solutions being proposed to ease congestion are an alignment and widening of W.Va. 51, widening U.S. 11 and construction of a new interchange from Interstate 81 near Runnymeade Road.

Mays said after the meeting that much of the problem stems from the state highway department's recent adoption of a six-year plan for funding priority projects and the county's rapid urbanization, which has led to an increase in land prices.

"There's just not enough money, and by the time they identify a traffic upgrade and want to determine a route, that's when they start buying up properties," Mays said, adding new development along a number of key right-of-way areas compounds the problem.

Echoing Mays, Commission President Howard Strauss indicated development in the area only could be addressed by passing laws that strengthen county government's ability to tackle it.

"It's easy to say whether we need zoning or we're opposed to zoning, but you see it with the unbridled growth in Berkeley County," Strauss said, appearing to partially address a roomful of residents who came to the meeting for another matter. "But the planning commission and the county commission only have so many tools ... and it's in your hands."

Mays said a roadway's failure to get designated a priority means it must wait until the next project funding cycle in six years.

"They're just not giving the critical attention to high-growth areas that they should," Mays said.

Bob Gordon, director of transportation for the Eastern Panhandle Regional Planning and Development Council, said the stretch of road from I-81 to W.Va. 51 is functioning at the lowest grade level, according to federal highway standards.

"We've already identified that area as being a serious issue and we need to address it," said Gordon, who acknowledged that all options have been exhausted by local officials.

"At the local level at this point in the planning process, we've done everything we can do as far as being the squeaky wheel," Gordon said, adding population projections based on continuing construction in the area will compound the problem.

According to a Long-Range Multimodal Transportation Plan for the Hagerstown/Eastern Panhandle Metropolitan Area, two projects recommended for near-term implementation - the widening of W.Va. 51 to five lanes from the I-81 interchange east to U.S. 11 and the realignment of W.Va. 51 from U.S. 11 east toward the Sulphur Springs Road intersection - would cost a combined $8.8 million.

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