MOUNDSVILLE - Local officials refuse to give up on a plan to extend Interstate 68 from Morgantown to Moundsville, despite Gov. Joe Manchin's recommendation that they do so.
Manchin has acknowledged that road projects in the Northern Panhandle have been "ignored for years," according to W.Va. 2/I-68 Executive Director Charles Clements, who said it is unlikely the situation will improve soon, due to a lack of available funds. Clements said he met with Manchin in May and told authority members the governor acknowledged projects in northern counties of the state have been overlooked for some time.
During a Monday meeting in Moundsville, Clements, of Wetzel County, thanked local legislators for their efforts in obtaining $50,000 for road projects this year. He stressed the need to continue emphasizing upgrades to W.Va. 2 and noted Manchin suggested abandoning the I-68 project.
But Marshall County representative Tony Chieffalo and authority Chairman Don Shenefiel of Wetzel County assured attendees that suggestion would not be taken. Shenefiel said the authority was created in support of both roads, adding, "We don't want to give up I-68."
"We understand with money being short we have to prioritize, and we don't have a problem with that," he added. "We're starting to see a need for alternative funding. If we're going to upgrade, we're going to have to examine (alternative funding sources). Let's not cover our eyes to what's happening."
Perry Keller, representing the West Virginia Department of Transportation in Charleston, said the WVDOT soon will start on a new long-range development plan involving all manner of transportation, including the highway system.
He noted a widening project on a 1.8-mile stretch of W.Va. 2 south of Washington Lands in Marshall County will start before the end of the year and is set for completion by October 2010.
"We have to say it's a political world we live in," Shenefiel added. "If we don't let our voices be heard, the funds will go somewhere else."
He pointed out that other road authorities in the state also are vying for the money that is available.
"This is competition," he continued. "We have competition with other authorities."