County to Debate Mall Connector Road

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Belmont County commissioners are expected to discuss today whether nearly $2 million should be spent to build one connector road in the Ohio Valley Mall area, or whether the money instead should be directed toward improving many roadways in the county.

Commissioners meet at 10 a.m. at the courthouse in St. Clairsville, with Commission President Ginny Favede and Commissioner Matt Coffland on opposite sides of the issue. Commissioner Charles Probst did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

Favede released a statement this week indicating she is opposed to the money being spent on a U.S. 40/Mall Road connector. She noted officials with the Ohio Department of Transportation met recently with commissioners and other stakeholders in the project, and suggested commissioners transfer $1.9 million from county coffers to the city of St. Clairsville and the Belmont County Transportation Improvement District.

The money would be spent to fund the acquisition of private property by eminent domain from owners near the project and the construction of a single stub road off of U.S. 40, she explained.

Favede added the project was initiated to stimulate new business when Belmont County tax revenue had decreased and few economic opportunities existed.

“With the recent boom in oil and gas development in this county, those circumstances have changed,” she said. “As a result, the board is reconsidering whether the investment of all of the remainder of the county’s infrastructure funds into a single road for the benefit of private property owners to spur private development is in the best interests of Belmont County and its residents.”

Coffland, however, said Belmont County already has spent $2 million in federal funds for the project on needed studies and designs. He wonders if the county backs out now on doing the connector, if they will be liable for paying back that $2 million.

Earlier this year, Favede and Probst voted to move $1 million from the infrastructure funds earmarked for the connector project to pay for paving in the county, according to Coffland. They also sent a letter to the Ohio Department of Transportation indicating the $1 million would be made available when they were ready to begin the project.

“Now that time has come,” Coffland said. “The commission needs to step up to the plate and fund this project …”

He noted the connector road will relieve traffic on Mall Road by connecting the Ohio Valley Mall on its west side with the Ohio Valley Plaza and U.S. 40. The project also could open up about 200 acres for development, he said.

Restaurants, hotels, senior housing and a wellness center are among the entities that could be added to the existing retail establishment there, Coffland continued.