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Updating W.Va. 9 is a costly undertaking

October 25, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- W.Va. 9 over Blue Ridge Mountain was built as a rural connector road in 1930 between the Virginia state line and Charles Town, a time when Jefferson County was a different place.

Today, according to the West Virginia Department of Transportation, about 22,000 vehicles travel that hilly, curvy five-mile stretch of road. Fatalities are 76 percent higher on that stretch than the state's average, according to DOT statistics.

To bring that section of road up to modern standards will cost about $153 million, according to the DOT. Included in the cost is $50 million for a four-lane bridge over the Shenandoah River. It will be built a couple of miles downstream from Bloomery Bridge, which today carries traffic over the old two-lane rural road.

The $50 million for the bridge will come from federal stimulus funds, officials said. Construction is expected to begin soon and will take three years.

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The design for the entire five-mile stretch is finished.

An earlier segment, some of which is nearly finished except for paving, veers off the U.S. 340 and W.Va. 9 bypass just about opposite the new Citizens Fire Co. headquarters. It will cross the Shenandoah River and then run for six-tenths of a mile in four lanes up the mountain from the new bridge. Another six-tenths-of-a-mile stretch will reach the Virginia line in two lanes, said Kenneth Clohan, area construction engineer for the highway department in Leetown.

Clohan said Virginia officials have not said if they will widen their stretch of W.Va. 9 to four lanes. If they do, then West Virginia will widen its final six-tenths leg to four lanes at that time, Clohan said.

Clohan said Trumble Corp., a Pittsburgh construction company, won a $16 million low bid to build the four- and two-lane segments from the river to Virginia.

Five construction alternatives for the new road were considered, which could have affected 88 historic properties plus land from the Appalachian Trail. The route selected displaces 14 residences, 46 acres of farmland, but it won't touch the trail or cross over Cattail Run, a high-quality stream and spring, according to DOT's Web site.

A more visible section, nearly complete, of the overall widening of W.Va. 9 from the Virginia line to Berkeley Springs in Morgan County, runs for 10 miles between Charles Town and Martinsburg. 

According to Clohan, construction of that project will be finished by early next summer. The DOT's Web site pegged its cost at $147 million.

Farther off on the back burner are the 27 miles of W.Va. 9 from Martinsburg to Berkeley Springs between Interstate 81 in Berkeley County to U.S. 522 in Morgan County. Engineering and environmental studies will begin once federal funding becomes available, the Web site said.

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