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W.Va. road work upsets business owner

July 10, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A road-widening project designed to improve access to a string of businesses along U.S. 11 south of Martinsburg and ease congestion has upset business owners, who say the project has posed a nagging financial hardship.

"We're running out of personal finances to stay afloat," said George Gano, who owns Legends Bar & Grill at 1517 Winchester Ave.

Gano said his business is in the heart of the disruption caused by the 1.1-mile project. Kenneth L. Clohan, area construction engineer for the West Virginia Division of Highways, said last week the project is expected to be completed by the end of August.

Kingwood, W.Va.-based Mountaineer Contractors Inc. was awarded the project in the fall of 2008 after submitting a $3.6 million bid, the lowest among six contractors, according to bid results.

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The project area spans between the entrance to the former location of Lowe's along U.S. 11 and the Pike View Acres subdivision further south of Martinsburg.

In a November 2008 interview, Clohan said the project would not be done until August because the widening project also included the relocation of water and sewer lines and new storm drainage infrastructure, including curb and gutter.

"The existing drainage (system) was almost nonexistent," Clohan said last week.

Since then, the state decided to gave the contractor a 14-day extension to finish the project without penalty because of weather-related delays and waterline work, Clohan said.

The contractor will be assessed liquidated damages for any work not done by Sept. 1, Clohan said.

Gano said he understands the value of the project to businesses along U.S. 11, but said the project's managers did little to coordinate the work so that access for patrons and delivery trucks was regularly maintained.

"We can't open 'til 5 p.m. because its such a mess," said Gano, who added that his business hadn't been open during the day in more than a year.

To expedite the project, Clohan said that beginning Monday at 6 p.m., some paving work would be done overnight and would continue until 6 a.m.

Other work will continue from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and traffic might be confined to one lane during both work schedules, Clohan said.

Clohan said there had been some challenges with the project, including the replacement of curb and gutter by contractors that repeatedly failed to meet DOH standards and had to be redone three times.

Clohan also acknowledged that no formal meeting was held the property owners about the project. While he said that contractors typically try to meet with affected owners if driveway access is affected by a project, scheduling is sometimes difficult with subcontractors.

"They're doing their best out there," Clohan said.

Gano said he and other businesses have been harmed by the overall lack of communication about the project and added that business owners should not have to juggle their hours and "dwindle down to nothing" because of a road construction project.

While addition of a turning lane is important, "I'm probably not going to be able to be the one to benefit (from it)," said Gano, who added that he might have to close his business as a result of lost revenue.

Clohan said blasting would have helped expedite the utility relocation work that needed to be done, but that method wasn't an option because of the project's proximity to businesses and residences.

With the installation of more than 6,000 feet of pipe now complete, Clohan said remaining paving and curb and gutter work should progress much faster

The U.S. 11 project is expected to be complete about the same time as the last four-lane section of W.Va. 9 between Martinsburg and Charles Town is opened to traffic, Clohan said.

Guardrail installation is about complete and contractors are working on sign foundations, Clohan said.

Actual sign installation depends on the delivery of galvanized metal parts for the structures, Clohan said.

While the weather is cooperating for officials to open the section by the end of August, Clohan said he is hoping for some rain to get some grass growing along the new route. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection expects ground cover to be in place when new roads are opened to traffic, Clohan said.

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