Public comment sought for preferred alternatives
by Kate Shunney
West Virginia transportation officials have unveiled several options to improve travel and safety along WV-9 between Berkeley Springs and Martinsburg, with particular emphasis on high-congestion areas around Hedgesville.
Officials with the Division of Highways and Pittsburgh-based engineering firm Michael Baker International led an online meeting Thursday evening, March 4, to present what they have called “high-level planning” concepts for the two-lane road to Martinsburg.
Presenters said it will be years before planning proceeds through all of the permitting and funding a highway project will require.
More than 60 people attended the hour-long teleconference meeting, including officials from the Town of Hedgesville and Morgan County Commission, plus travel and tourism groups here.
Engineers walked through a 52-slide presentation that is open to view on the state Highway website at https://transportation.wv.gov/highways/programplanning/comment/WV-9-Planning-and-Environmental-Linkages-Study/Documents/presentation.pdf.
Slides showed traffic volume and crash incident data for WV-9. Engineers said there is “very low volume” on the northern (Morgan Cou
nty) section of the road. Their data showed travel by 3,200 to 4,100 vehicles per day along the stretch from Berkeley Springs to the Morgan/Berkeley County line. At the county line, traffic volumes spiked upwards, showing up at their highest points very near the connection to I-81 just west of Martinsburg.
Data also showed that WV-9 isn’t primarily used by travelers going all the way from Berkeley Springs to Martinsburg.
“There’s not a lot of long-distance travel,” said Dan Szekeres, Traffic & Safety Analysis Lead for Michael Baker International. “The numbers show less than 100 people per day going from Berkeley Springs to Martinsburg.”
The most frequent trips on WV-9 were between the Berkeley County line and I-81, he said.
Crash data, however, does show areas that need attention in Morgan County, said Szekeres. Curves along Route 9 are “locations of concern,” he said.
Engineer and Project Oversight official Max Heckman said the top goals for an improvement project to the roadway include “improving mobility” between Berkeley Springs and Martinsburg, increasing safety for travelers, supporting planned development for economic gains, protecting environmental resources like water quality and boosting “multi-model” transportation like the use of commuter trains and trails in the area.
LuAnn May, Project Manager for Michael Baker International, said Morgan County has “many natural resources” to take into consideration when planning upgrades to WV-
9. She said Warm Springs Run and Sleepy Creek Watersheds are on planners’ radar, along with Morgan County Farmland Protection parcels, Spruce Pine Hollow Park and the Tuscarora Trail, which runs through the area. All proposed improvements to WV-9 avoid Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area.
Of the options to upgrade WV-9, planners and highway officials said the first is to make no changes to the roadway.
The next lowest i
mpact option is the upgrade the existing roadway in its current path with wider shoulders, additional turning lanes, better signage, markings and drainage.
Planners showed six corridor options for re-routing parts or all of WV-9 between Berkeley Springs and Martinsburg.
All corridor options were shown in 1500-ft. wide swaths. May said any new road would be built 200 feet wide within a corridor.
Corridor I Alternative would start in Berkeley Springs and be routed south of the existing WV-9 to the area of Spruce Pine Hollow, and then south of the existing WV-9 to Martinsburg.
Corridor II Alternative would begin at the proposed U.S. 522 bypass point or the Fairview Connector road, swing north of the existing WV-9 for most of its length until Hedgesville.
Corrridor III Alternative would begin on the existing U.S. 522 north of the sandmine plant, run north of the current WV-9 and swing far north of Johnsontown in Berkeley County.
Corridor IV Alternative would start just south of the Hancock bridge and follow a path roughly along River Road, following the contours of the Potomac River then dropping toward Hedgesville through the area of Johnsontown.
Corridor V Alternative would make no route changes in Morgan County, but re-route WV-9 south of the existing road between Johnsontown and Martinsburg.
Corridor VI would make no route changes in Morgan County, but would create a WV-9 bypass north of Hedgesville.
During Thursday’s online meeting, a councilman from the Town of Hedgesville commented that his town government had not been contacted or “kept in the loop” on the corridor alternatives that were unveiled in the document.
“It’s pretty imperative you keep the Town of Hedgesville informed,” he said.
Other attendees asked questions about specific route options, pointing out residential areas and natural views that would be disturbed. Some who commute daily on WV-9 said the route options wouldn’t address the main causes of congestion, which they said could be fixed with minor lane changes or signs.
Max Heckman said those comments are exactly what highway planners are seeking now during a comment period that continues through April 5.
“There is significant congestion at Hedgesville to I-81 and safety concerns for the entire corridor. It could be we wind up with a bypass around Hedgesville and upgrade the existing WV-9,” he said.
“We don’t really have plans at this time. We’re presenting it to the public now,” said Karen Allen of the West Virginia DOH.
DOH officials said there will be another public meeting about the planning stage in May.
Residents can take an online survey about their preferences for different WV-9 improvement options. That survey is found at http://metroquestsurvey.com/eq2n2y and can be found linked off the DOH project website.
Written comments can be sent through the DOH website or via mail or email by April 5 to:
Mr. Elwood Penn
Director, Planning Division
West Virginia Division of Highways
1900 Kanawha Blvd.
Building 5, Room 740
Charleston, W.Va. 25305.