by Trish Rudder
With more than 350 comments received by the state Department of Transportation Division of Highways (DOH) last May regarding the proposed U.S. 522 Berkeley Springs Bypass, both those residents who want a bypass and those who are against one, agreed on one point: the bypass as it was presented at the public meeting last April, needs to be redesigned.
The comments were obtained from the DOH by The Morgan Messenger through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request last week, after a long delay.
Most public comments pointed out that the bypass entrances on the south end of U.S. 522 and the north end need to continue into the Town of Bath. As the bypass is designed, U.S. 522 would run straight onto the new four-lane road. Many people wrote that they feared the Town of Bath businesses will suffer.
Many comments said that the through-truck traffic needs to be curtailed and many suggested weigh stations at the south and north end of the county instead of the bypass.
About 117 comments were in favor of the bypass but added they wanted it redesigned to allow the north and south entrances to continue into the Town of Bath.
One resident wrote, “We are in favor of a bypass, but we don’t like how the current plan calls for all traffic to go on the bypass instead of staying on 522. There needs to be a business 522 and a bypass 522.”
“Collaborate with the Town of Bath/Berkeley Springs/Morgan County officials to ensure long-term economic and environmental damage is prevented,” was another comment submitted.
“Please redesign the bypass to include direct access to the current 522 please!,” wrote another resident.
About 20 comments were completely in favor of the bypass as it is designed.
The Berkeley Springs-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce executive director, Lori Hansroth, who heads up the Bypass Task Force, said on Monday the members met with DOH engineer Dirar Ahmad on August 30. Hansroth said the DOH engineers know there are some concerns and they are looking at potential options.
She said the DOH is in the process of updating the environmental impact study.
Krista Goodin, a project manager in environmental planning, said at the public meeting on April 19, that the proposed bypass met the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) standards in 2001, but the impact study had expired and must be reapproved. She said the group will be rechecking the environmental impact of the bypass, including the human impact regarding location, noise, air quality and traffic.
The estimated cost of the bypass is $64 million and was not scheduled to begin until 2020, according to state highway officials. A $1.6 billion bond amendment to the state constitution was approved in October 2017 that allows the sale of state bond over four years to improve state roads. The Berkeley Springs bypass project was one of the projects listed for bond funding.
Hansroth had said that this project could be pushed back to later rounds of bond sales if other projects are moved up in the priority list ahead of the U.S. 522 project.