New Highlands Interchange Considered

WHEELING – Ohio County commissioners say they continue to seek ways to bring a second interchange to The Highlands, and they are considering using county dollars to fund a westbound only exit ramp to alleviate traffic congestion at the county-owned development.

The upcoming holiday shopping season likely will highlight the need for a second way of leaving The Highlands when the roadways there become bottlenecked. Commissioners this year have been seeking state funding to build a second interchange at the site.

“We continue to work on it, and we’ve kicked around a few things,” Commissioner Orphy Klempa said. “But we’re also well aware of the state’s finances with regard to roads. We’re still looking if that’s the route we will go, or if we need to come up with other sources of funding.”

The county may have to assume the cost for the project, and one option might be to build an interchange “piecemeal,” he said. The project could begin with building just a westbound entrance ramp on the north side of Interstate 70 leading cars from The Highlands back to the highway, and initially forgo construction of a bridge across the interstate and ramps on the eastbound side.

Early this year, commissioners pushed for state legislation that would have expanded the Ohio County Development Authority’s Tax Increment Financing District from its present 300 acres to 500 acres and provided the authority with a share of the sales tax dollars generated by car dealerships and businesses on the south side of Interstate 70. The money would have been used to construct a second interchange there.

While that bill failed to pass, a similar one to build a second interchange at the University Town Center development in Monongalia County was successful. Commissioners say they will continue to push their bill in 2014.

At the same time, commissioners believe the county may have to take on funding the project.

Commissioner Randy Wharton said Department of Highways officials this year informed commissioners funding for state road projects was limited, and they were encouraging private developers to help pay for projects that benefit their properties.

Commissioner Tim McCormick said commissioners are considering “a couple of ideas.”