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Better communication needed on project

A few days ago, I received a copy of a letter sent by Byrd White, West Virginia’s secretary of transportation and commissioner of highways, concerning the proposed realignment project of a portion of state Route 2 in New Cumberland.

This is a project promoted by the people of Hancock County for many years, with at least the last three New Cumberland city administrations, as well as county commissioners and local legislators joining the fight to move it forward.

One of the major issues for this project was the concern about heavy truck traffic making its way through the city, in particular an intersection with low visibility and a tight, 90-degree turn at Madison and Chester streets.

There have been several options put forward for this project, and a series of public meetings in the last couple of years in order to take comment from area residents. During those meetings, state highways officials assured residents their thoughts would be taken into account when a decision was made. For good or bad, that doesn’t seem to have happened.

In White’s letter, which appears to have been written in June, but, according to my sources, only recently sent to legislators, the DOH official says they will be going with Alternative 4 for the project. The estimated $6.9 million project would “improve” the issue of the intersection by creating a short bypass to the east of the city’s commercial district. In essence, the project would create a section of road following Ridge Avenue, going down the hill by the library and then, instead of turning toward Chester Street (Route 2), it would go straight until meeting Route 2 at a point just above the New Cumberland Volunteer Fire Department.

According to a packet provided during the last public hearing on the project, Alternative 4 also would require the state taking over the properties of three businesses and two houses on Park Place and an apartment building on Madison Street. It will also eliminate a large portion of the city park.

Public officials, as well as many of the residents seem to have hoped for the use of Alternative 5A.

I understand cost is always going to be an issue, and Alternative 5A, at $15.9 million, was certainly the most expensive of the options presented. White’s letter also said safety issues, available funding, environmental concerns, options for rights-of-way and design also were taken into account.

According to the DOH packet, 5A also would have impacted some potentially historical buildings, the South Chester Street Playground, local baseball fields, several homes, a couple of small wetland areas and about a dozen potential hazardous waste sites. The packet also notes an impact to a Columbia Gas transmission station and New Cumberland’s wastewater treatment plant.

Obviously, there are going to be concerns with either of these options, and, to be honest, the other alternatives have their issues as well, especially with taking over the property of New Cumberland citizens and businesses.

The main concern, for me, is the apparent lack of communication on the project. A decision supposedly was made two months ago, and yet nothing was announced. Should the people of Hancock County not be informed of the progress of this project, as well as the impact it will have on their community?

Currently, according to White’s letter, plans are to begin advertising for the project in the spring. My hope is DOH officials take some time before that happens to better communicate the details of the project, listening to the citizens and hearing any concerns they may have.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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