Last chance to comment on MIP bridge proposal

Amidst everything else that has been going on — regionally and nationally — discussion of the Harmony Grove interchange and the even more expensive stop-gap bridge has faded into the background. But the period for public comment on the bridge is coming to a close.

As a quick refresher: The Harmony Grove interchange has been a long-sought-after renovation to connect the Morgantown Industrial Park to Interstate 79 and then to 68. In fact, it was the deciding factor in Mountaintop Beverage deciding to settle in the industrial park; the interchange would allow Mountaintop’s trucks quick, easy access to both the north-south and east-west interstates and make it possible for Mountaintop to expand its facility. In addition, the interchange would reroute the vast majority of truck traffic going to and from the MIP off municipal streets — something locals have been begging for.

However, the Harmony Grove project has been strangled in red tape and is still years away from being started, let alone completed. In the meantime, however, the Division of Highways agreed to construct a bridge to connect the bottom of MIP to U.S. 119, and therefore to I-79.

As we’ve stated previously, we’re not opposed to the idea of a bridge to tide over the MIP until the interchange can be completed, especially since it continues to be unclear when that will be. However, we have also said that, of the bridge proposals, the one most favored by officials is the one with the least longevity.

That bridge design — designated Alternative 3 — would connect the south end of the MIP to U.S. 119/Grafton Road in the less than half-mile stretch between Scott Avenue and the Glotfelty Tire Center. The connection would intersect Smithtown Road somewhere in the area of the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses before crossing the river and connecting directly to Rail Street at the bottom of the MIP. The problem is that once the interchange is complete, there will be no reason to use the bridge to Grafton Road; trucks will have quicker, easier access to the interstate by going up to the interchange instead of down to the bridge.

And that is where our objection lies: The state will spend almost twice as much on this bridge as it will to construct the interchange, and as soon as the interchange is complete, the bridge will become obsolete. That seems like a gross waste of money, especially since there are alternative designs in which the final product would still be useful long after the Harmony Grove project is complete.

We previously championed Alternative 1, which would put the bridge in the roughly 1,000-foot stretch between the Morgantown Lock and the BFS station at 305 Don Knotts Blvd. It’s not perfect — instead of repairing the existing River Road, it calls for creating a parallel road to connect the new bridge to the future Harmony Grove interchange. But a second bridge between Morgantown and Westover would hopefully alleviate some of the congestion at the current Westover bridge.

The comment period for the bridge project ends Friday. If you would like to log your opposition or support, you can mail your written comments to: Travis Long, Technical Support Division, West Virginia Division of Highways, 1334 Smith St., Charleston, WV 25301.

You can also fill out the Google Doc at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfe7f_4Zd1akEg-foPI15zaKWy4u0nTfuYI9E6x_dniojChMQ/viewform.