by TRISH RUDDER
About 220 people who wanted to learn more about the proposed U.S. 522 Berkeley Springs Bypass and the Fairview Connector road to War Memorial Hospital attended the state highway department’s open house public meeting last Thursday, April 19.
In the Berkeley Springs High School cafeteria, maps of the proposed bypass from Winchester Grade Road to Sand Mine Road were set up on easels for the public to view. No formal presentation was made by the West Virginia Department of Transportation’s Division of Highways personnel, but project managers from the DOH engineering division were on hand to answer questions.
Construction of the bypass is set for 2020, according to the DOH proposed schedule, but the project has to be reevaluated to meet environment impact standards by late 2018, according to the DOH schedule.
It is estimated to take about two years to construct the bypass.
Krista Goodin, a project manager in environmental planning, said the proposed bypass met the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) standards in 2001, but the impact study has expired and must be reapproved.
Goodin said they will be rechecking the environmental impact of the bypass, including the human impact regarding location, noise, air quality and traffic.
The majority of local people who will be affected by the bypass construction reside on the east side of Berkeley Springs.
The right-of-way acquisitions are scheduled to be met in 2019 so construction can begin in 2020, according to the proposed schedule.
All the rights-of-way properties have not yet been acquired. The environmental impact assessment has to be updated and will be by the end of 2018 or early 2019, “so we can go forward in 2020,” said DOH project engineer Dirar Ahmad.
Lee Thorne, the DOH District 5 Engineer, said the only rights-of-way properties in place for bypass construction were purchased from landowners who wanted to sell and approached them.
District 5 Realty/Right-of-Way agent Missy Shumaker added that a number of parcels have been acquired through advance acquisition and the remainder of the property owners will be contacted.
DOH Right-of-Way Manager Todd Wilson said on Monday that about 25 parcels were acquired through advance acquisition, and the total number needed to build the bypass are 150 parcels.
The Berkeley Springs Bypass and the Fairview Connector are estimated to cost $64 million, said Delegate Daryl Cowles, who represents the 58th District in Morgan County. Cowles is also the executive director of the county’s Economic Development Authority.
He said the $1.6 billion bond amendment to the state constitution was approved by West Virginia voters in October 2017 and the Berkeley Springs Bypass construction — “realignment to 522,” he said — is one of the projects to be funded through the bond.
Points of entry/exit
The proposed bypass has six entrance/exit points.
“Six intersections are needed for easy access for everyone along the route,” Ahmad said.
The big exchanges are on Winchester Grade Road, and on Route 9 (Martinsburg Road), said DOH project manager, Feras Tolaymat. They will both have an overpass, Ahmad said.
After Winchester Grade Road, the next roads going north that intersect with the bypass are Sugar Hollow Road, Myers Road, Johnsons Mill Road, Route 9 (Martinsburg Road), and Fairfax Street.
The Fairview Connector road between U.S. 522 and War Memorial Hospital is still being designed, according to the bypass map.
Construction for the U.S. 522 bypass will begin about a half a mile south of Winchester Grade Road, according to DOH maps.
“It will be incredibly easy to use this bypass,” Cowles said.
For instance, drivers going north from Cacapon State Park on U.S. 522 will need to enter the bypass before Winchester Grade Road. They could exit at Winchester Grade Road to get back to U.S. 522 North right away. Drivers going to Berkeley Springs State Park or the courthouse could exit the bypass with a left turn at Sugar Hollow Road to get back to U.S. 522 or use any of the exits off the bypass to get on back on U.S. 522 to get to downtown Berkeley Springs.
According to the current design, drivers going south on U.S. 522 from Hancock must enter the bypass and can exit back to U.S. 522 South at any of the exits beginning at Fairfax Street.
Drivers cannot travel from Hancock to Winchester without being on the bypass briefly, Cowles said.
Cowles said the engineers are reluctant to build a “Y” at the north and south points of entry and exit. The reason is because of the danger of high-speed traffic merging from four lanes to two lanes.
DOH project manager Chris Francis said the four-lane proposed bypass will have four 12-foot-wide lanes with a 40-foot-wide median strip, plus inside shoulders four feet wide and outside shoulders 10 feet wide.
Some of the people Francis spoke to at the meeting said they want the bypass to rid the truck traffic, but others said they don’t want the bypass because it will kill downtown businesses. He encouraged people to send in their comments to the DOH.
One person at the Thursday meeting who did not want to be named said that people in Lewisburg, W.Va. fought the bypass at first, and after it was built, the town prospered. She said she had a relative who lived there and she visited her often.
“It’s a great town, and it did not suffer after the bypass was built. I think the people there were kicking and screaming about it just like the people here,” she said.
Bill Clark, executive director of the Eastern Panhandle Regional Planning and Development Council (Region 9), said people need to send in their comments and weigh in on the proposed bypass. He said people should talk to each other about it and get a better understanding of the bypass.
Clark said one of his concerns was the road from Virginia feeds straight into the bypass road instead of feeding straight onto U.S. 522.
“We want to encourage people to get into town,” instead of bypassing it, Clark said.
Public comments needed
The project managers also stressed the importance for the public to submit comments in writing, which are due by May 21 to Mr. RJ Scites, P.E. Director, Engineering Division, WVDOH, 1334 Smith St., Charleston, WV 25301. Comments can also be submitted at its website of http://go.wv.gov/dotcomment. Click on the blue tab “Engineering Projects,” then click “Open,” then click on “US 522 – Berkeley Springs Bypass and Fairview Connector.”
No commitment was given by the project managers to schedule a second public meeting on the highway project.