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by Joedy McCreary
(June 23) GRAFTON --Residents from Taylor and Harrison Counties met with West Virginia Division of Highways officials Monday afternoon to discuss several options for making U.S. Route 50 a four-lane limited access highway and easing congestion in the Clarksburg-Bridgeport area.
State officials presented four plans for improving the two-lane road that connects Bridgeport and Grafton. One alternative runs south of the current path, while two options pass to the north and another follows the current U.S. 50 path.
Division of Highways representatives emphasized that the routes are still subject to change.
After a 30-day period in which the DOH will evaluate comments, DOH Representative Bill Wood tentatively plans to study traffic projections through the summer. After that, no formal timetable has been set.
Improving the current path would cost approximately $200 million, about $8 million per mile, according to adjusted figures from a 1966 study, Wood said. Cost estimates for the other three routes are not yet determined, he said.
"It would be nearly impossible for the state of West Virginia to do on its own without federal aid," Wood said. "We haven't addressed funding yet."
While no time estimates are finalized, Wood said residents shouldn't expect the highway to be built overnight.
After all, construction on U.S. 52 near Tolsia -- which was funded via the Highway Act of 1991 -- didn't begin until 1996 and is still under way.
Wood also presented options for alleviating traffic on Interstate 79 in the Clarksburg-Bridgeport area.
The most feasible plan for Harrison County, Wood said, is building a road from U.S. 50 near the border of Taylor and Harrison counties to the Benedum Airport.
Wood called this plan a "given" and said that the road could also be extended north to connect U.S. 50 with the FBI Center.
Building an I-79 bypass in Clarksburg and widening the existing road to eight lanes are also on the drawing board, Wood said.
The reason for construction, Wood said, is a change in Clarksburg driving patterns.
"We knew the FBI Center would change Clarksburg into an urban-type of highway," Wood said. "By (making improvements), we can let the community have the existing road for local trips and have through traffic on the new by-pass."
The highway improvements will make the region more attractive to business, Maple Lake resident Laura Aliff said.
"Obviously, Grafton needs the four-lane highway into the city for economic reasons," Aliff said. "There's no easy way to Grafton. The only way to open up to industry is to open the roads."