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W.Va. 9 work set to continue

July 30, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - The first section of paving on the new route for W.Va. 9 between Martinsburg and Charles Town, W.Va., is scheduled to begin next month in Jefferson County.

But area residents already are using a completed part of the future highway's bicycle trail to the dismay of Robert T. "Bob" Amtower, the District 5 engineer for the West Virginia Division of Highways (DOH).

"That whole section is still under contract," Amtower said Friday.

Upon learning of the trail's premature use in the Bardane section of the highway project, Amtower said signs indicating the asphalt path still is off limits to the public will be installed.

But he conceded his agency had little power to "stop folks from going out there."

Given the apparent interest already demonstrated, the trail likely will be a popular aspect of a long-awaited highway project now more than 15 years in the making. The route from Martinsburg to the Virginia state line now is expected to cost more than $300 million, highway officials have said.

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In May, a $17.7 million contract was awarded to Hilliard, Ohio-based Hi-Way Paving Inc. to construct 4.6 miles of the new-four lane road, and install guardrails, signage and striping. The concrete surface with asphalt shoulders between Currie and Leetown roads near Kearneysville is expected to be completed in a year, officials announced.

"We are under the impression that we're going to advertise two more projects (to prospective contractors) rather quickly," Amtower said.

Amtower could not provide a date, but was confident the new work would entail sections immediately west of Leetown Road to the Opequon Creek bridge in Berkeley County.

Before that can happen, highway officials must complete one lingering property purchase from West Virginia University to make way for the new road, said Zane Paitsel, District 5's right-of-way agent.

"It's a matter of trying to get attorneys together," said Paitsel, who expects active negotiating to be resolved with the state land-grant university in the next couple of weeks.

Excluding the state's pending purchase of a right of way through WVU's Tree Fruit Research and Education Center near Kearneysville, DOH officials have spent $50.5 million on land and utility relocation for the new highway's route between the Virginia state line and Martinsburg, records show. The $18.3 million spent so far between Kearneysville and Martinsburg does not include utility work.

Officials have spent nearly $15.1 million between Charles Town and the Virginia state line, and a little more than $17 million for sections between Kearneysville and Charles Town.

Before construction can begin west of the Opequon Creek bridge to the Eastern Regional Jail to complete the Martinsburg-to-Charles Town section, officials must relocate the graves of three children who were buried on an old Berkeley County farm off Mt. Olive Road. The grave sites are situated in the right of way.

"We should have done (that) a long time ago," one DOH official admitted Friday.

The unmarked graves are expected to be relocated to family plot belonging to descendants of Amos and Sarah Belle Brandenburg, possibly in the next few months, said Ivan Kapp, a DOH official who coordinates relocation of cemeteries statewide.

Kapp said Friday he was in the process of contacting family members, and might have to ask a circuit judge to sign a court order to allow the remains to be moved.

Research on the grave sites, including preliminary excavation to find them, was completed last year.

As of last week, earth moving and bridge construction between Charles Town and Kearneysville nearly was finished in two segments, and a remaining eastern section near Currie Road was about 66 percent complete, according to a status report provided by DOH area engineer Bill Shanklin.

The report also indicated work on a frontage road for W.Va. 9 near U.S. 340 was expected to begin in September. Demolition work approved for the W.Va. 9 project in both counties was "substantially" completed, according to Shanklin's report.

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