NEW CUMBERLAND - State Route 2, one of New Cumberland's biggest assets, also presents the county seat with one of its biggest puzzles - what to do with all the truck traffic that uses the vital state highway.
A recent study by the West Virginia Division of Highways proposes four alternatives to the current configuration, which forces trucks to make two tight 90-degree turns in quick succession and negotiate a hill whose road is only 16 feet wide.
The report considers everything from relatively minor adjustments to the current route to a complete four-lane bypass of New Cumberland - projects ranging in cost from $2.7 million to $144 million - although the latter is not within the study's scope.
CONTINUING CONCERN — A tanker truck heads north on state Route 2 through New Cumberland on Friday afternoon. Such traffic is a continuing concern to local and state officials who want a better way for tractor-trailers to get through town. -- Stephen Huba
The report attempts to get a handle on an issue that has bedeviled state and local officials since the 1970s - how to make traffic through town, especially intrastate and interstate truck traffic, more manageable and less damaging to roads and sidewalks.
"These turns can make it difficult for large trucks to navigate without running onto the sidewalk," the report says. "This section of road (on Station Hill) is narrow, measuring 16 feet in some places. A combination of these two areas and the significant amount of truck traffic that navigates this route causes some concern for pedestrian safety."
Mayor Linda McNeil said she plans to meet soon with state Sen. Jack Yost, D-Wellsburg, former state Sen. Ed Bowman and DOH District 6 Acting Manager Tom Badgett to "talk some more about finding a solution to the issues of the damage that's being done to our town. ... Maybe there's some money that hasn't been found or will be available after this (legislative) session."
The issue has become more urgent in recent years, as tractor-trailer traffic associated with the oil and gas industry has increased markedly on Route 2 and elsewhere in Hancock County.
While that traffic is a sign of renewed economic life, it also has increased wear and tear on the intersection of Chester and Madison streets, Station Hill and Ridge Avenue.
"New Cumberland is ideally situated particularly for business in the oil and gas industry because of the railroad, the Ohio River and Route 2," said Patrick Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle.
Acknowledging the need for economic development, McNeil said the problem of road degradation, especially on Ridge Avenue, can lead to economic harm.
She noted the utility poles that line Ridge Avenue are "tilting more and more" and that a decorative light pole in front of the newly opened Staley's Hardware & Rentals recently was knocked over, presumably by a truck making a tight turn.
"It costs $3,000 to replace it," McNeil said.
The four alternatives detailed in the report are as follows:
Improving the existing 90-degree turns by widening sections of Chester Street and Madison Street. Estimated cost: $2.7 million.
Improving the existing 90-degree turns by shifting the portion of the road between them about 70 feet south. Estimated cost: $3.6 million.
Improving the 90-degree turns by widening the existing roadway and turns to the north (variation on the first alternative). Estimated cost $3.4 million.
Creating a bypass that would begin at the Hardins Run bridge on North Chester Street and track southeast and run parallel to the railroad tracks for about 1,200 feet. Estimated cost: $6.8 million.
Other alternatives considered, but not detailed, in the study include a bypass that would follow South Chester Street and Industrial Road, reconnecting with Route 2 on the south end of town, and a four-lane highway that would bypass New Cumberland to the east.
The DOH report notes the contradiction of Route 2 being classified a rural route but being "more like an urban route when considering the city streets and terrain."
A four-day traffic study of Route 2's southbound lane done in April 2013 recorded a total volume of 14,156 vehicles and an average daily traffic count of 3,693 vehicles. Another study done in 2011 recorded an average daily traffic count of 7,500 vehicles, although it is unclear why there is such a discrepancy between the two studies.
In the 2013 count, of the 14,156 vehicles that passed through New Cumberland:
13,573 were passenger cars;
331 were small trucks;
112 were buses; and
137 were tractor-trailers.
The latter constituted only 1 percent of all the traffic counted in the study.
(Huba can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)