Officials discuss truck traffic issue, begin working on a solution

NEW CUMBERLAND-There may finally be some movement on the issue that keeps New Cumberland truck traffic stuck in a crawl.

Preliminary design drawings from the West Virginia Department of Transportation propose changes for the intersection of Chester and Madison streets, Station Hill and state Route 2 that would improve the pace and safety of truck traffic through town, officials said.

Those alternatives will be shared with the public at a meeting scheduled for 4-7 p.m. May 29 at the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center.

“This really marks the beginning of the project,” said Brent Walker, transportation department spokesman.

A recent study by the department’s Division of Highways (DOH) 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.

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.

“There are plans I’ve seen that DOH drew up in 1972 trying to solve the problem,” Mayor Linda McNeil said. “They’ve been aware of it. They’ve been trying to help with it.”

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 and Rocky Fitzsimmons, and Mary Joe Guidi, regional coordinator for U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin III.

“There was a discussion about our common interest in making (Route 2) as safe as possible, as soon as possible,” McNeil said. “Our council recognizes that this is an issue that has reached a critical stage, and we’re working together … to find the best solution for this problem before there’s any big disaster.”

The May 29 meeting will give people the opportunity to view the alternatives, ask questions of DOH staff and offer comments, although there will be no formal presentation.

Walker said the meeting is proof that the issue is “on the radar” of state officials in Charleston. “This particular intersection is certainly a priority. We’re beginning that process. We’ve got a lot of projects that aren’t even to this point,” he said.

The project will start with an environmental assessment pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act, he said.

Two major aspects of the project that remain unclear are scheduling and funding. But McNeil attributed the recent activity to improved communication among city government, state legislators and DOH staff.

“Those three are joining in the common goal of finding a safe route through New Cumberland,” she said. “That is really the driving force-the exchange of communication and ideas.”

Other transportation-related developments in New Cumberland include the start this week of a partial repaving project on Ridge Avenue (Route 2) and the scheduling of the sidewalk improvement project for Station Hill.

DOH crews are “skip paving” parts of Ridge Avenue to improve the sections most affected by potholes, said DOH spokeswoman Carrie Bly.

The work began on the northbound lane and will then switch to the southbound lane. Chelsey Hill will be closed during the project, McNeil said.

Other sections of Route 2 in unincorporated parts of the county will get attention from DOH crews in the next couple weeks, Bly said.

Work to repair the Station Hill sidewalk is scheduled to begin on May 26, McNeil said. City Council awarded the contract to Glaspell Masonry & Construction, of Weirton, in January.

The sidewalk was closed to pedestrians in June 2012 after years of heavy truck traffic caused the concrete slabs to crumble.