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A heavily trafficked road in the Eastern Panhandle is going to expand to help drivers and commuters get to their destinations faster and safer.
The Berkeley Springs Bypass project will stretch a little more than three miles from south of Winchester Grade Road to Martinsburg Road in Morgan County.
This new road will allow vehicles to bypass US Route 522, which sees a current traffic volume of 13,400 vehicles per day. Approximately 30 percent of those vehicles are trucks, according to Gov. Jim Justice, who made the announcement over the weekend in Berkeley Springs.
“This project will alleviate traffic congestion, enhance safety, and increase roadway capacity along the US 522 corridor,” Justice said. “There’s a lot of people putting in a lot of good licks to make these things happen.”
The project is part of the governor’s Roads to Prosperity initiative, which is in its third year. The bond program has seen $1 billion in major infrastructure improvement projects to-date.
The contract for the new bypass project in Morgan County was awarded to the Trumbull Corp. with a bid of $59.8 million.
The project will create a four-lane highway with a diamond interchange at the intersection of West Virginia Route 9. It includes construction of three bridges – one mainline bridge and one overpass bridge – and three new at-grade intersections.
“This project is important for human safety,” said West Virginia Sen. Charlie Trump, R-Morgan, at the event. “It’s going to be a great project for Morgan County, and for the safety of the people of West Virginia and people from all over the United States who drive this highway.”
Another Morgan County lawmaker, West Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Pro Tempore Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, was also at the event. Cowles said the new bypass will do more than make a safer highway.
“It’s great to have a safe highway, it’s great to have the trucks out of downtown [Berkley Springs] for the tourism industry, but let’s not forget that this will change people’s lives,” Cowles said. “It will lift and raise the boats of home budgets and the prosperity of regular citizens everyday.”
The eastern edge of the Eastern Panhandle, consisting of Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties, has seen massive growth in population in the past decade. Berkeley County alone from 2010 to 2018 saw more than 1,500 new people each year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
But population growth also means heavier traffic and more upkeep of roads.
In an interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting last year, the state Division of Highways said to adequately fund the state’s road needs, West Virginia would need at least $2.4 billion every year, which is twice what the state sees on average annually for road needs.
According to the state DOH, West Virginia has the sixth-largest transportation system in the country based on the number of miles of road in the state. The state has 36,000 miles of roadway largely maintained by the Division of Highways.
Only 14,000 miles of roadway in West Virginia are eligible for federal dollars, according to the DOH. The rest must come from state tax dollars like tolls, DMV fees and gasoline taxes.
In an emailed statement to West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Sandy Hamilton, the executive director of the development authority in Berkeley County – which is the county that neighbors Morgan and often feeds into Morgan’s traffic congestion – said the bypass project will benefit the entire Eastern Panhandle.
“The Berkeley Springs Bypass project benefits our entire region, and particularly from an economic development standpoint,” Hamilton said. “Infrastructure improvements of this magnitude enhance and encourage our ability to more effectively market our attributes.”