NEW CUMBERLAND - Winding its way along the Ohio River, state Route 2 stretches from Huntington, in West Virginia's far southwestern corner, to Chester, in the tip of the Northern Panhandle.
But its passage through the Hancock County seat of New Cumberland has been recognized as a problem since the 1970s - mainly because tractor-trailers must make two tight, 90-degree turns in quick succession and negotiate a hill where the road is only 16 feet wide in spots.
On Thursday, New Cumberland residents who attended a public meeting on Route 2 learned that help may be on the way.
ROUTE 2 ALTERNATIVES — West Virginia Division of Highways officials look at state Route 2 design alternatives with New Cumberland Mayor Linda McNeil on Thursday. The meeting at the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center gave the public the opportunity to learn more about the road widening project and to offer comments. -- Stephen?Huba
The meeting was the first opportunity for residents to see designs for the improvement of Route 2 at the intersection of Chester and Madison streets and on Station Hill.
Three of the design alternatives propose the widening and realigning of sections of Route 2, while alternatives four and five bypass the Chester and Madison intersection entirely. The projects, which state highway officials say would improve traffic flow and safety, range in cost from $3.1 million to $10 million.
None of the proposed projects have funding, and the current project schedule consists of only two dates - Thursday's public meeting and a follow-up meeting on June 30.
But officials with the West Virginia Division of Highways insist the project is finally a priority in Charleston.
"The fact that we are here means that things are moving," said Dirar Ahmad, section head for the DOH Engineering Division. "Our upper management believes that this is an important project, a worthwhile project. This is, after all, a major state route."
Ahmad said there currently is funding for the initial designs, preliminary engineering work, some environmental studies and the development of a "preferred alternative." The latter is the revamped design drawing that follows the 30-day public comment period, he said.
"Every single comment we receive ... is evaluated and becomes part of the environmental record. We do not ignore it," Ahmad said.
Thursday's meeting, which was attended by several DOH experts on engineering, environmental impact and right-of-way acquisition, satisfies the public involvement requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, Ahmad said.
"With any project with federal funding, we have to determine the extent of its impact on the environment," he said.
While the first three alternatives are similar in scope, the first involves only road widening and intersection improvements. Alternatives two and three would have an impact on buildings to the south or north of the intersection respectively, said Mark White, DOH design study unit leader.
Alternative four would bypass the intersection and would involve new roadway construction. Alternative five, the most extensive, would create a bypass down South Chester Street, past AL Solutions, to the south end of town.
Although she declined to discuss her preferences Thursday, New Cumberland Mayor Linda McNeil sounded a hopeful note about the project.
"I'm encouraged to see people here asking questions and offering their input," she said. "It behooves all of us to find a happy solution to this."
McNeil said she's pleased with the response of the DOH but added, "I'm told funding is very tight for projects like this."
New Cumberland City Council recently met in special session to discuss the project with DOH District 6 Acting Manager Tom Badgett and Assistant Construction Engineer Daniel Sikora. Also in attendance were state Sens. Jack Yost, D-Wellsburg, and Rocky Fitzsimmons, D-Wheeling, and Mary Joe Guidi, regional coordinator for U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin III.
"Something needs to be done," said Councilman Will White, who attended Thursday's meeting. "I think all of us on council are on the same page about that."
The public may comment on the Route 2 project through June 30. Send written comments to: R.J. Scites, P.E., Director, Engineering Division, West Virginia Division of Highways, Capital Complex Building Five, Room 317, 1900 Kanawha Blvd. East, Charleston, WV 25305-0430.
Or go online to: go.wv.gov/dotcomment. Click on "Comment on Engineering Projects," then "Open," then "WV 2-New Cumberland."