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Byrd recognized on his birthday for service, highway funding

November 20, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- On his 92nd birthday, and two days after becoming the longest-serving member of Congress, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., was celebrated Friday in Charles Town for a trademark of his nearly 57 years in office -- bringing millions of dollars in highway money to West Virginia.

In Washington High School's auditorium, Byrd joined Gov. Joe Manchin, U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and state and transportation officials in a groundbreaking ceremony for another four-lane section of W.Va. 9.

"I make no apologies -- none, none, none -- for being a zealot ... for improving highways in West Virginia ," said Byrd, who has steered $156 million for the new route for W.Va. 9. between Martinsburg and the Virginia line east of Charles Town.

The groundbreaking Friday celebrated the beginning of construction on a 1.23-mile section of the new W.Va. 9 from the east bank of the Shenandoah River to the Virginia line.

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Trumbull Corp. of Pittsburgh was awarded the project, which is being paid for with $16.3 million in federal stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Byrd said he has in the last 20 years secured more than $2 billion in federal highway dollars for various projects statewide while serving on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

Byrd twice rose briefly from his wheelchair under his own power Friday to acknowledge a friendly crowd of about 250 people who joined the high school's chamber choir in singing "Happy Birthday." Shouts of "We love you, Senator Byrd" also came from the audience, which cheered and applauded him several times.

Manchin told the crowd he had never seen a public servant like Byrd and said there would never be another like him, before reading his proclamation designating Nov. 18 as Robert C. Byrd Day in recognition of the senator's 56 years and 320 days in Congress.

Manchin, who was seated beside the senator, turned the pages of Byrd's prepared remarks as he read them with a forcefulness that belied his limited physical strength.

"We have to grow wisely," Byrd said of the negative effects of traffic congestion on the environment and economic development. "The failure to grow wisely will stunt ... stunt our growth."

Proposed designs for a new bridge over the Shenandoah River for the highway are expected to be reviewed next month, Department of Transportation Secretary Paul A. Mattox Jr. The project is not expected to be completed until 2012, according to the DOT's request for proposals.

The section of highway between Charles Town and Martinsburg is on schedule to open in late spring or early summer of next year, according to Division of Highways engineer Kenneth L. Clohan Jr.

Bridge work, shoulder paving, signage and cleanup work still need to be done on the section of the new limited-access highway between Leetown Road in the Kearneysville area and ID Van Metre Road near the community of Baker Heights, but Clohan said the project is about 91 percent complete.

In her remarks at the ceremony, Capito acknowledged that she didn't vote for the federal stimulus spending, but said she was supportive of the money being spent on the W.Va. 9 project because it stimulates job growth and improves quality of life in the Eastern Panhandle.

Manchin said his administration prioritized transportation improvement needs and has placed high priority on completing much-needed upgrades to W.Va. 9 and W.Va. 35, which both had been deemed particularly dangerous, heavily traveled routes in the state.

Before leaving the school, Byrd joined the choir in singing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" at Manchin's request after the group performed "My Home Among the Hills."

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