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Economic Impact Study Next Step for Interstate 68

WHEELING — The next route toward a proposed expansion of Interstate 68 to connect it with W.Va. 2 in Marshall County is an economic impact study.

Robert Miller, executive director of the W.Va. 2 and I-68 Authority, sent a letter requesting the study to West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice. Justice responded to the request last week, saying he would forward it to the state Division of Highways for consideration.

“The project is creeping along slowly, but we’re making some progress,” Miller said.

Miller said he has sent state DOH Secretary Byrd White a request for a meeting to discuss the importance of an expanded I-68.

There continues to be interest at the federal level in expanding the highway and establishing a route connecting Monongalia and Marshall counties, according to Miller. The federal departments of transportation, commerce and energy all have expressed support, according to Miller.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Energy have asked if there was an economic impact study done for such a project, he said. Miller researched and found a study was completed in 2003.

“Obviously, the economics then and what they are today are totally different scenarios,” he said. “If they get it soon enough, they may want to integrate it into report they are working on for our region.”

Now is the time to continue to push for the I-68 expansion, according to Miller. The energy and commerce departments appear to have even greater interest in such a project than does the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“Normally if you are promoting the building of a highway, you would appeal strictly to (the Department of Transportation),” Miller said.

But the departments of energy and commerce are interested in the highway extension because of the potential for a proposed ethane cracker plant across the river from Marshall County in Belmont County, and a local plastics industry that could enhance nearby communities.

Miller cited Shale Crescent USA statistics indicating it potentially could become cheaper to make plastic products in the Ohio Valley using raw materials than to import them from elsewhere in the world — even when the cost of labor is factored in to production.

Among those locally also championing the I-68 expansion is state Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel. He said he plans to meet with White in Charleston this month.

“It’s one of those things. If you don’t start now, you’ll never get it done,” Clements said. “Even if we start now, it’s a long way down the road — no pun intended.”

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