522 bypass entrances, design still up for public comment

by Trish Rudder

More than 200 people attended the state Division of Highways (DOH) workshop meeting last Thursday, February 28 at Berkeley Springs High School to review the design changes of the proposed U.S. 522 Berkeley Springs bypass.

The majority of comments from the community approved the changes showing on the maps displayed in the high school cafeteria. Entrances at the southern and northern ends were redesigned based on the community comments from last year’s meeting.

The intersections at the southern and northern end connections were revised and now displays a roundabout that allows the entrance onto the bypass on the east side of U.S. 522 instead of straight ahead as it was originally designed.

The roundabout on the northern end also connects to the bypass which has a Fairview Connector exit that goes to Fairview Drive and War Memorial Hospital.

A roundabout is a circular intersection where drivers travel counterclockwise around a center island. Drivers yield at entry to traffic in the roundabout, then enter the intersection and exit at their desired street. A roundabout is designed to accommodate all vehicles, including truck and trailer combinations.

DOH traffic engineer Ken Clohan said the intersection design on the map shows a roundabout, but it could be a traffic stop sign instead. He said studies show a roundabout is safer and there “are less severe crashes.”

The final intersection design will be based on right-of-way and environmental impacts and the costs associated with the current and future four-land construction projects, the DOH said.

Many community members still disapproved of a bypass in Berkeley Springs. Business owner Jeanne Mozier said she does not want a bypass.

“It’s a colossal waste of money,” she said. She was “thrilled” with the entrance and exit changes on both ends.

Town of Bath Mayor Scott Merki said instead of a roundabout, he would put a ramp and bridge over the old U.S. 522 “and traffic can merge onto 522.”

Resident Rick Gramling agreed. He said a ramp/bridge over U.S. 522 is better than a roundabout.

Merki also said he wanted a two-lane bypass, not a four-lane bypass. Others, including residents Greg and Joanie Blinn, agreed.

“Keep the town quaint,” Joanie Blinn said.

“Two lanes instead of four would be better,” Merki said. He said the speed limit on the bypass should be 55 miles-per-hour, not 65.

The Blinn’s bought property in Berkeley Springs and built a new home.

“The four-lane is set to go right through our property,” she said.

Resident Lester Jackson said he wants a two-lane bypass. In his comments, he wrote he wants “good ramps – no roundabout or stop sign.”

Resident Lewis Hovermale said his home on Johnsons Mill Road is very close to the four-lane bypass, and no one has contacted him about his property. He said he would choose a roundabout over a stop sign.

The community needs to weigh in on their choice of the roundabout versus a stop sign, and it should be reflected in their comments due by April 1, said DOH civil engineer Patrick Brennan. He said a bridge over U.S. 522 on both ends instead of the roundabouts would be more expensive.

Merki said if the bypass were only two lanes instead of four, the cost of the bridgework would balance it out.

Resident and business owner Garreth Foulds approved of the redesigned intersections. He said signage is needed on U.S. 522 before entering the intersection that would read: “Berkeley Springs: The Nation’s First Spa Straight Ahead.”

Another change made to the original design got rid of an at-grade intersection at Myers Road. Also, construction of ramps for the Winchester Grade interchange will be delayed for future construction, according to the DOH.

This project description proposes to construct the Berkeley Springs Bypass and the Fairview Connector. The project begins south of Winchester Grade Road and ends north of town near Sandmine Road, including a connector from U.S. 522 to Fairview Drive (near War Memorial Hospital) for a distance of about four miles. The currently proposed bypass will be a four-lane, controlled access expressway with a grassed median and a design speed of 65 mph, according to the DOH. The project is expected to cost at least $64 million.

Comments can be submitted by mail to: Mr. R.J. Scites, P.E., Director, Engineering Division WV Division of Highways, 1334 Smith St., Charleston, WV 25301.

Comments may also be submitted online at: Click on the blue tab “Engineering Projects,” then click “Open,” then click on “US 522-Berkeley Springs Bypass and Fairview Connector.”

Comments are due April 1.

According to the DOH timeline, the environmental impact study should be finished by mid-2019, right-of-way activities by the end of 2019, construction (design-bid-build) in late 2020, and construction (design-build) in early 2021.

Joanie Blinn said on Monday that a lot of people that she has talked to are not aware that the bypass for Berkeley Springs is still in play and continues to move forward.

“Many told me they thought the bypass was a ‘dead issue’,” she said.

A roundabout is one proposed entrance and exit on the southern end of a U.S. 522 bypass.