BRIDGEPORT -- When state and local officials gathered on a hilltop east of Bridgeport Tuesday, they did more than just dedicate the first phase of the North Bridgeport Bypass.
They also dedicated the first phase of what eventually will become a four-lane highway to Grafton.
Gov. Cecil Underwood and Transportation Secretary Sam Beverage joined local dignitaries in opening the first part of the new four-lane road, which runs from U.S. Route 50 near the Taylor-Harrison county line, to State Route 131. The road will eventually extend about one more mile west and connect with Interstate 79.
"This is the first part of a four-lane highway into Taylor County," Beverage told the crowd of about 50 people. "Our strategy is to extend this road into Grafton.
Beverage said his department currently is studying plans for the road, but gave no timetable for its completion.
Most of the new section of road is now open, Department of Highways district four administrator Marvin Murphy said.
The new highway should relieve a bottleneck and open the area to more economic development, Underwood said.
"This road makes it possible to reach east from Interstate 79."
Grafton officials are glad to hear that Route 279 is the first step in connecting their city to the west.
"This is a good thing," Grafton City Council member Jim Morgan said. "To make it better, it needs to be four lanes all the way to Grafton. I would like to see it eventually hook up with Corridor H in Tucker County."
Such a highway into Taylor County will open it up for economic development, which will benefit the entire region, Morgan said.
"If people in Taylor County have good jobs, businesses in Harrison, Monongalia and Preston counties will benefit too," he said.
Safety is another concern, Morgan said. Four lanes will allow people to pass on the road safely, reducing the number of accidents.
The opening of the first phase of the highway was exciting for Harrison County officials, too. County Commissioner Beth Taylor served on the Taylor-Harrison Transportation Committee, which first developed the idea for the bypass four years ago, she said.
"I'm elated to see it come to fruition," she said.
The rest of the Route 279 project will be completed in two more phases, which are scheduled for completion next year.
Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.