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Road maintenance snarls traffic in Martinsburg

April 04, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

Ongoing road maintenance stemming from the West Virginia Department of Transportation's decision years ago to cover concrete sections of Interstate 81 with asphalt triggered hours of congestion Wednesday in downtown Martinsburg, city officials said.

No alert for motorists was posted on the agency's Web site and Martinsburg City Manager Mark Baldwin said he wasn't notified by the state Division of Highways, but he did receive several phone calls from concerned residents.

"We understand the DOT has to do maintenance on I-81, but can it be coordinated in a better way?" asked Baldwin, noting the effect on businesses and EMS services.

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"To my knowledge, we weren't informed (of the work)," said Baldwin, who initially thought the congestion was caused by an interstate accident.

"In the case of an accident, we understand there may not be an alternative," Baldwin said.

The sealing of joints in the asphalt in the northbound lanes of I-81 caused congestion on West King Street and North Queen Street that began in the late morning and continued well after noon.

Work on the road is expected to resume today near mile marker 17 about 8:30 a.m., according to Division of Highways expressway supervisor Eddie Lucas.

Lucas said area residents might want to use U.S. 11 as an alternative until work is suspended for the weekend about 2 p.m.

Work may not resume next week because Lucas said the DOH's maintenance facility off Rock Cliff Drive is running short on available materials for the sealing project, which was completed on the southbound lanes last year.

The sealing project is needed to keep moisture from reaching the concrete beneath the asphalt, which has a tendency to expand and contract in certain weather conditions, highway officials said.

The DOH District 5 maintenance engineer in charge of overseeing projects in the Eastern Panhandle could not be reached for comment, but Area Engineer William "Bill" Shanklin said he doubted whether the work could be done at night because of moisture conditions and believed the local maintenance crews didn't have the necessary lighting equipment.

Unexpected diversions of traffic because of I-81 accidents have concerned city leaders for a number of years because North Queen Street is the primary connector for motorists traveling north to south in the city.

Efforts to extend North Raleigh Street to Edwin Miller Boulevard would provide an alternate route without Queen Street's height-limited underpass.

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