A new city and county transportation group wants to encompass a number of proposed road projects into one, which would eliminate the need for a Shady Spring turnpike interchange and the proposed widening of the turnpike near Beckley.

The Beckley-Raleigh County Transportation Authority, a new county transportation group incorporated by the city of Beckley, is proposing that the crosstown connector project, East Beckley bypass project, Airport Road upgrade connector project and the Route 19/3 Shady Spring upgrade project be encompassed into a single plan to address traffic and economic development needs in the county.

The project is being called the “Z-Way” because the proposed roads connect to form a “Z” pattern in various phases.

“This is a critical time to express our needs to our state and federal representatives so we can take care of traffic problems in and around the city and county,” said Bill Baker, executive director of the Jobs Foundation, one of the groups that will be represented in the new transportation group.

Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh said the new group is being formed to speak for the entire city and county regarding transportation projects and issues.

“We want a very broad representation on this new authority,” Pugh said. “It is important that we speak with one voice instead of one group talking about one thing and another group talking about something else.”

Pugh said members have not been selected for the new authority, but those supporting the Z-Way project and expected to have representation include the city, county commission, Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce, Raleigh County Airport Authority, Jobs Foundation, Forward Southern West Virginia and business owners in the airport industrial parks.

“We want to all be on the same page and to disseminate transportation information and issues for the city and the county,” Pugh said.

Pugh and Baker both say the proposed plan is not a new one.

“In 2001 or 2002, the city and the county both passed an ordinance in support of an intermodal transportation study done by the state Department of Transportation, the city and the county,” Pugh said. “That study addressed this issue and referenced the need for this project. We are just reaffirming what was done then.”

Pugh said the new proposal just makes more sense.

“It will alleviate traffic congestion in the Shady Spring, Daniels and Beaver areas and bring more benefit to more motorists than the proposed Shady Spring interchange,” Pugh said. “The widening of 19/3 is more beneficial.”

Baker agreed.

“This project will solve all the traffic problems at less expense,” Baker said. “It allows the West Virginia Parkways Authority to get out of the Shady Spring interchange project and the widening of (the turnpike).

The Z-Way project has an estimated total cost of $103 million, while the Shady Spring interchange could cost as much as $75 million and the widening would cost approximately $45 million.

“The $20 million to pave ... in that area (an 8-mile segment from the North Beckley interchange to the Interstate 77/64 split) would still be done,” Baker added. “But the widening wouldn’t be necessary with the crosstown connector.”

Baker said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., has already earmarked $500,000 to study part of the plan.

“The money to study this is already there, thanks to Congressman Rahall,” Baker said.

In the last federal transportation budget, Rahall also secured another $3.5 million to bring the East Beckley bypass project by the Cranberry Creek gorge.

“Our plan doesn’t call for a bridge over the gorge as was originally proposed,” Baker explained. “That would save another $25 million.”

Baker says the East Beckley bypass project is in the federal transportation system and is eligible for 90 percent federal funding with a 10 percent state match. The state Parkways Authority may be able to use $55 million for the crosstown connector phase of the project, and the Route 19/3 and Airport Road upgrade projects would have to be paid for with state funds.

“This is a step in the right direction,” Baker said. “We are optimistic we can get this plan approved.”

Baker said this project, along with the Beckley Intermodal Gateway (BIG) project and the Neville Street project in downtown Beckley that are both expected to begin by next year, would eliminate current traffic problems and bring many economic development dividends.

“The benefits are obvious,” Baker said. “That is why we must look at this as a single project and let everyone know that it is our top priority.”

The Parkways Authority has imposed a freeze on new bonds and capital improvements. However, Baker and others met with the governor’s deputy chief of staff and Parkways Authority chairman Joe Martin Thursday and the initial response to the new Z-Way plan was positive.

Martin said he was presented with the plan and a map of the project.

“The information will be forwarded to the governor, the acting Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox and the Parkways Authority, but it is way too soon to talk about if the project is feasible,” Martin said. “It may in fact be a very good plan, but it will take some time to study a $103 million proposal.”

Alan Susman, a member of the West Virginia Parkways Authority, said the new proposed plan has not yet been presented to the general membership.

“I can only speak as an individual and give my personal opinion,” Susman said. “I believe this new Beckley-Raleigh County Transportation Authority is an excellent idea. It’s time we all speak with one voice regarding these proposed road projects.”

Susman said the Z-Way project would not adversely affect Parkways Authority revenues.

“This project would result in no loss of toll money,” he said.

Susman said his concern is that the state has already allocated new road project money for the next five years.

“Unless our federal representatives help us get some funding, it may be difficult to get this project done,” Susman said. “Depending on the state Legislature, we may not see the Shady Spring interchange or the widening of (the turnpike) near Beckley. I guess we will just have to wait and see what the consensus is going to be with our state and federal officials for any or all of these proposed road projects.”

— E-mail:

fpace@register-herald.com

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