by KATE EVANS
A number of residents and business owners at last Thursday’s public meeting about the U.S. Route 522 bypass project voiced concerns about the project’s impact on businesses, home and property owners and the town’s environment.
Many who spoke with The Morgan Messenger opposed the current bypass design and several opposed the project. One couple noted that everyone would be sitting on their front porches listening to the roar of trucks and vehicles gunning down the high-speed four-lane bypass.
Several people said they were in favor of the bypass.
Star Theater owner Jeanne Mozier said the worst thing she’d heard about the bypass plans was that U.S. 522 South would be cut off at Winchester Grade Road and traffic would be forced there to get on the bypass, using various exits to come into town.
“It’s a nightmare. Did they talk to anyone?” Mozier asked.
Mozier said that people’s GPS directions will put them on the bypass and they’ll have to make a serious conscious decision to get off the bypass and come into town. She wanted to change the whole bypass design.
Mozier was told the southern design was already approved but can be changed depending on public input. Traffic coming from Hancock on the north end of U.S. 522 would also be forced onto the bypass by U.S. Silica with a similar preliminary design.
Country Inn owner Matt Omps had major concerns about local businesses being impacted by the bypass. He thought the southern part of the bypass should be redesigned so that people aren’t forced to get on the bypass.
“It’s a stupid move,” said David Miller of forcing traffic onto the bypass on the southern and northern ends. He also had concerns for local businesses.
Business owner Barb Wolfe said that at least a third of her business at her gift shop on U.S. 522 in the middle of town is drive-through traffic that stops for lunch.
“I don’t know any businesses that can afford to lose a quarter to a third of their business,” she said.
Wolfe said state engineers couldn’t say the expected start date for the bypass, the time length for the project’s completion and what properties would be impacted. She was told the bypass would increase businesses coming here but wondered where they’ll get their water. Wolfe said she didn’t believe the county or town is prepared for what’s coming with infrastructure.
Alisa Stine said her Martinsburg Road financial services business is right in the path of the bypass and officials hadn’t even knocked on her door yet. She just upgraded her business location.
Stine was concerned about the bypass going from two to four lanes and said local roads needed to be widened and repaired to accommodate it. She wanted to know if local highway resources would go toward clearing and repairing the bypass, making care of other roads worse.
Abby Porter said the current bypass design would impact businesses and will eliminate shoppers that have driven through the town for 10 years that finally decided to stop. She was concerned about the increased noise and pollution from bypass traffic fumes. Porter also felt going from a four-lane to a two-lane bypass for the northern end doesn’t make sense without a solution like a new Hancock Bridge.
For the bypass
RAG Shop owner Trish Shunney said she is in favor of the bypass just to get the traffic out of town. She sees 20 vehicles pass before customers can pull out in front of her shop or walk across the street. People come here expecting Berkeley Springs to be a quaint, quiet little town. Her shop windows rattle from the trucks’ brakes.
Real estate agent and homeowner Victoria Luttrell said she had no concerns and felt the bypass is needed. The town has got to do something and the bypass “will affect everyone in different ways.”
State highways worker Brian McClintock said he thinks the bypass is a good thing and felt sure it would bring more state highways jobs and equipment to the area to help maintain it.
Will have to move
Resident Bob Meinhardt said the proposed bypass is coming through the middle of the three-acre property where he and his wife and also his wife’s niece live in two separate homes on Sherill Lane in North Berkeley. The property is owned by their niece, who has serious health issues, as does Meinhardt, who is 82 years old.
They came to the meeting to find out the construction time frame because they may have to move—a concern with their health issues. They live very close to War Memorial Hospital.
Meinhardt noted the serious terrain drop-off around their property on the map and said that they’ll have “a nasty bunch of fill” to bring in for the bypass there.
Nancy Dickey said her Johnson Mill property won’t be affected but one of her neighbors will have to move. There’s so much noise in town from traffic but she’s not convinced the bypass is the solution.
Eric LaRue lives on Sugar Hollow Road and said the current bypass design would block access for him and his neighbors by forcing them to come out the other end of the road. Sugar Hollow Road has sharp turns. He thought that construction equipment could never make the turns if they needed backhoes or driveway paved. LaRue wondered how a school bus could navigate it.
Linda McGraw said she’d like the bypass to be a toll road like it is on the Outer Banks of Virginia and North Carolina. At the last exit there before the toll roads begin all the cars get off and come to town and the trucks continue on the toll road because they all have electronic toll passes, she said.
Carol Miller and her husband Eric Miller wanted officials to first try low impact solutions to the tractor-trailer traffic through Berkeley Springs like truck weigh stations at the north and south ends of town, speed bumps and enforced speed limits before a bypass is constructed. These measures have been successfully used in different historic towns in Virginia from Winchester City all the way to Dulles, Eric Miller said.
Where they lived in Delaware, I-95 ended in their back yard and was basically a parking lot with bumper-to-bumper traffic from the increased vehicles it attracted, he said. A one-hour commute turned into two hours, said Carol Miller.
“We moved here to get away from all that,” she emphasized.
The Millers expressed bypass concerns about increased traffic from I-81 and I-70 and more traffic accidents and local fatalities from the higher speeds and truckers falling asleep at the wheel. They worried about increased drug traffic and illegal activity and potential gang activity, which is a big problem in Winchester where Eric Miller teaches.
Friends and neighbors will lose their homes and the project will destroy people’s livelihoods, Eric Miller said. The Millers, who are veterans, have lived in lots of places with bypasses and said it kills the towns and increases traffic long-term.
They noted that the $64 million that will be spent on the bypass could help West Virginia with other things like the opioid crisis, public schools and veterans.
Put comments in writing
Missy Shumaker, State Division of Highways Right-of- Way engineer, said that public meeting concerns were mostly about diverting traffic away from town and individual concerns about how the project will affect people’s homes, yards and roads.
Comments Shumaker heard were about 50% for and 50% against the project. She encouraged people to submit their comments about the project’s designs in writing by mail or online as soon as possible while the project’s scope can still be changed.