UPDATED at 4:15 p.m. to add information from U.S. Senator Joe Manchin.
by Kate Shunney
A planned four-lane bypass around Berkeley Springs is one of two area roadway projects to receive major federal funding through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development (BUILD) grants, according to an announcement today by U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Both are members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Their offices announced on Thursday, December 6, that a $20 million BUILD grant would go toward the Berkeley Springs bypass project, including construction of a Fairview Drive connector between U.S. 522 and the area near War Memorial Hospital. Another $20 million grant will go toward expressway construction in Tucker County.
Highway officials have estimated the bypass and Fairview Connector could cost $64 million.
“This is a much needed investment in two critical projects that will make West Virginia roadways safer and more efficient. Not only is this good for travelers and those living in Berkeley Springs and Tucker County communities, but it’s good for commerce and our state’s economic potential by better connecting West Virginia to transportation hubs around the country,” Senator Capito said in a press release about the grant. “From my first day in the Senate, I have advocated for Corridor H and similar projects that will greatly improve our transportation infrastructure, and I’m glad my conversations with Transportation Secretary Chao have proved beneficial to West Virginia. I will continue working to help deliver similar resources.”
Senator Capito secured $650,000 in federal funding for a hospital connector road when she served in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the 2nd Congressional district. Additional funds for the roads didn’t come through for a road to the new hospital at that time.
“Investing in American infrastructure is one of the most important steps we can take to put people back to work and get our economy moving again,” Senator Manchin said in a press release about the grants. “I have personally discussed the need for BUILD Grant infrastructure funding with Secretary Chao and stressed to her the vital need to West Virginia. I was very disturbed by the lack of funding within this program for Appalachia last year. I continue to believe that the construction of transportation infrastructure can spur economic development in our state, which is why I have worked with the Department of Transportation to encourage them to make changes to this critical program, and I am happy to see that West Virginia is reaping those benefits today. I will continue to push for increased funding to complete Corridor H and the Appalachian Highway Development System.”
According to Manchin, BUILD grants are awarded on a competitive basis, with a priority for projects that will make a large impact on a region. “These infrastructure improvements are essential to economic revitalization in rural communities,” Manchin said.
The last set of plans for the 4-mile Berkeley Springs bypass released to the public this past spring were met with a mixture of support and calls for the road to be re-engineered. Business leaders, residents and public officials have asked the West Virginia Division of Highways to change plans for the proposed bypass, which would cut off direct access to the existing U.S. 522 into the downtown Berkeley Springs area. Those plans would force all traffic coming into town onto the bypass, and push motorists to use one of several access roads to reach the downtown area. No new bypass plans have been released for public review since a public comment period on the project closed in May.
An environmental assessment was expected to be complete by the end of this year, with real estate acquisition to take place along the bypass route in 2019. In April, highway officials said they still needed to buy over 100 parcels of property along the proposed bypass route east of Berkeley Springs.