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Southern Berkeley County's growth called 'astounding'

February 13, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

The completion of southern Berkeley County's sewer expansion project in 2004 did more than add 120 miles of pipelines to the county's sewer infrastructure.

It also laid the groundwork for southern Berkeley County's explosive growth rate, according to Berkeley County Commissioner Ron Collins.

"That opened up areas that would not normally have opened up because of the larger lot requirements without sewer," Collins said.

The sewer project, completed over two phases at a cost that topped $60 million, increased the sewer district's plant capacity by 750,000 gallons a day. The area's growth is expected to continue for years to come, according to proposed development figures released recently by the county's planning department.

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As many as 3,565 residential lots on more than 1,368 acres in the Mill Creek tax district received preliminary or final plat approvals for development from the county's planning commission in 2005.

That number far outpaces residential development planned throughout the rest of the county last year, when 2,189 lots were given plat approvals on more than 926 acres in the county's five other tax districts.

Development of another 1,853 lots on more than 751 acres in the Mill Creek area were proposed to the county's planning department last year and await plat approvals by the commission.

Collins, a resident of Inwood, W.Va., called the projected development for the Mill Creek area "astounding."

Plat approvals for Mill Creek were even higher last year than in 2004, when the planning commission approved development of as many as 1,478 lots on more than 504 acres, according to last year's figures. The 2005 figure is three times that of all plat approvals for Mill Creek from 2000 to 2003, when 1,121 lots were approved for development on a little more than 520 acres, according to information compiled by the county's planning department.

The sewer district already is planning for future expansion there, said Berkeley County Public Service Sewer District General Manager Curtis Keller.

Keller said the district plans to begin an expansion of the new plant this summer. That plant will increase capacity to 1.5 million gallons a day, and future expansions are being planned to bring that to 2.25 million gallons a day.

The expansions will be funded in part by the district's $1,581 per-house capacity improvement fee, which was approved by the West Virginia Public Service Commission in 2005. Paid by the developer and assessed following an application for a letter of sewer service availability, the fee could be increased to $3,655 if the PSC approves a recent request filed by the district, Keller said.

More to be done



Much work remains to be done to improve the area's road network, and growth projections for the area are expected to make existing traffic congestion worse, said Bob Gordon, transportation program director for the Eastern Panhandle Regional Planning and Development Council.

"The highway system is not functioning because of the capacity issue. There is a significant amount of growth down there that is going to increase the problem," said Gordon, who told the County Commission last month that the stretch of road from Interstate 81 to W.Va. 51 is functioning at the lowest grade level of federal highway standards.

"Every vehicle that's coming to south Berkeley County has to pass through the corridor from (W.Va.) 51 West on Route 11 to (W.Va.) 51 East," said Del. Vic Roberts, R-Berkeley.

Roberts said problem areas include the three-way stop signs from the interstate at exit 5, which baffle motorists, and the short turning lane on U.S. 11, which quickly fills up into the through lane.

"There are backups daily," Roberts said.

Solutions being proposed to ease traffic congestion in the area include an alignment of W.Va. 51 and constructing extra lanes, said Gordon, who noted that long-range proposals include upgrading W.Va. 51 to Charles Town, W.Va.

Another possible solution, adding an interchange from I-81 near Runnymeade Road, would not be easy to accomplish because of federal highway standards and laws limiting access to the interstates, Gordon said.

Figuring the cost



Two projects - the widening of W.Va. 51 to five lanes from I-81 east to U.S. 11, and the realignment of W.Va. 51 from U.S. 11 east toward Sulphur Springs Road - would cost a combined $8.8 million, according to estimates in a Long-Range Multimodal Transportation Plan for the Hagerstown/Eastern Panhandle Metropolitan Area.

It will cost another $250,000 to add a set of traffic signals from the interstate at Exit 5, said Roberts.

West Virginia Commissioner of Highways Paul Mattox acknowledged the traffic signal problem in a January 2006 letter to Roberts, and wrote that the project had been placed on the department's schedule and was awaiting funding.

In the same letter, Mattox said the state Division of Highways is monitoring traffic at Runnymeade and Giles Mill roads, but noted that the state has no plans for a signal there until traffic rates increase.

Roberts suggested that approach was backward.

"I think it ought to be preventative," Roberts said.

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