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County backs city's Raleigh Street request

May 04, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Ask any Martinsburg-area resident and they'll likely have a few choice words to describe their experience of driving on North Queen Street, the city's only north-south thoroughfare.

"The traffic, needless to say, is getting worse and worse and worse," Mayor George Karos said Thursday.

Construction of an alternative route, in the form of an extension to North Raleigh Street has long been discussed during Karos' years at City Hall, but only recently have those conversations ended with advancing the project.

Thankfully for area motorists, Thursday's meeting of the Berkeley County Commission yielded more of the latter.

After several weeks of talks with city leaders, Commission President Steven C. Teufel announced Thursday that he and Commissioners Ronald K. Collins and William L. "Bill" Stubblefield asked U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd to transfer $13 million allocated for a bypass of Martinsburg to the Raleigh Street extension project.

"While the Martinsburg Bypass funding is greatly appreciated, it is our understanding, per discussions with the (West Virginia Department of Transportation), this project, without substantial funding, would not be completed for several years," according to a May 1 letter signed by all three county commissioners.

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"The Berkeley County Commission supports the City of Martinsburg's Raleigh Street extension project, as it is equally important for the growth and development of Berkeley County."

If the transfer receives required congressional approval, City Manager Mark Baldwin said the amount of funding still needed for construction of the Raleigh Street Extension would be reduced to about $6 million.

Baldwin said the improvements on Raleigh Street from West King Street to West Race Street and the northern extension of the road to Edwin Miller Boulevard are now estimated to cost $32 million. State highway officials said last month that construction wasn't expected to begin on the extension until 2009.

"Obviously, we appreciate the County Commission's support," said Baldwin.

In 2005, Byrd and U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller announced the authorization to spend $10 million on the extension, along with $13 million for the bypass.

Since then, city leaders allocated $1 million and the state's required 20 percent match to the federal money brings the total amount identified for the road to $13 million, Karos and City Council members said in a letter of their own to Byrd.

"The $13 million presently secured for the project can be utilized for project design, right-of-way acquisition and utility relocation ..." city leaders said.

"The remaining $2 million and the $13 million transferred from the Martinsburg bypass project, if approved (by Congress), would provide $15 million (toward) immediate construction ..."

Byrd spokesman Tom Gavin was not immediately available on Thursday, but previously has said that appropriations bills for the 2008 federal fiscal year will likely be written and approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in June. Byrd chairs the powerful committee.

Teufel noted the Raleigh Street extension project was needed to help with congestion on Interstate 81 when accidents happen and impact the entire county. He also suggested officials might want to consider completing a southern extension to Raleigh Street to connect with Apple Harvest Drive.

Baldwin said city leaders would continue to support efforts to get money for the bypass and other projects, such as the Tablers Station Business park, which he said would provide indirect economic benefits to Martinsburg.

Karos said he felt confident the transfer would be successful, especially given the cooperation with the county.

"It is a prime example of working together to get things done," Karos said.

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