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Moving Ahead On Interchange

It has been apparent for more than four years that a second link between Interstate 70 and The Highlands retail complex is needed. For part of that period, Ohio County commissioners have lobbied for the state Division of Highways to construct a new interchange.

But this week, commissioners began moving ahead on their own. A $14 million bond has been secured to begin the project, county Administrator Greg Stewart told commissioners on Wednesday.

In January 2017, we reported that commissioners hoped the then-new administration of Gov. Jim Justice could be persuaded to undertake the project. In that story, we pointed out state officials were battling “both a financial deficit and pressing infrastructure issues.”

Some things never change. Though the state budget is in better shape than it was in 2017, Justice and legislators face an ongoing struggle to keep it in balance. As for those infrastructure needs, roads other than a new Highlands interchange are sucking up money at a rapid pace.

Even the governor’s massive “Roads to Prosperity” initiative, for which voters in 2017 approved issuance of $1.6 billion in bonds, has been no help. In fairness to state officials, it needs to be noted that Ohio County seems to be getting our fair share of “Roads to Prosperity” money — a total of nearly $226 million, including $211 million to replace and repair bridges on I-70.

Commissioners seem to have come to the conclusion that if a new Highlands interchange is to be built, they will have to find the money to cover it.

That will not be easy. Still, commissioners have made the right decision. For safety reasons and to minimize traffic congestion, the new interchange needs to be installed.

Commissioners should continue to solicit help from Charleston, of course. Who knows? Justice and legislators may stumble onto a windfall.

The realistic view is that if we wait for state funding, the project will never get off the ground, however. So kudos to commissioners and Stewart for finding a way to plow ahead. Construction of the second interchange will be a service to the public — and may make The Highlands even more attractive for additional development in the future.

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