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Funding slows road completion

Roughly 15 miles are all that's left to make U.S. 35 four lanes from Interstate 64 to Ohio, but that section has proven difficult to complete.

The biggest issue? Funding.

Friday, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., traveled the length of the two-lane portion in Putnam and Mason counties with Joe Stanley, a truck driver with Con-way Freight, which operates a service center in Belle.

The trip enabled Capito to see firsthand the challenges drivers of large trucks face on U.S. 35.

For example, Capito said she noticed the lack of shoulder space and pull-off areas trucks - or anyone else - would need in case of an emergency or breakdown.

"When you're up in a truck, you can see what limited options you would have," she said.

Capito, who is on the House Transportation Committee, including the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, said she hopes to find funding in upcoming transportation legislation for the completion of the corridor.

"It's the will to get it done and that's what I'm pushing for," she said. "This road needs to be completed."

Rep. Nick Joe Rahall, D-W.Va., is the ranking member of the House Transportation Committee.

If the last two-lane section of U.S. 35 in West Virginia is upgraded to a four-lane road, the entire route will be four lanes from its terminus at Interstate 64 to Interstate 75 in Dayton, Ohio, just south of Interstate 70.

In the last decade, U.S. 35 in West Virginia has seen several upgrades, including four-lane sections from Interstate 64 to the Kanawha River bridge at Buffalo and from the Ohio River nine miles into West Virginia.

The state Division of Highways has also added rumble strips in the centerline of the two-lane section.

Still, the two-lane portion of U.S. 35 has a very small shoulder and few, if any, places to pull off the road in an emergency. There are also no fewer than 80 residential driveways connected to the two-lane portion - a number that doesn't include named roads or businesses.

The 55 mph speed limit on the two-lane stretch is also one of the lowest between Dayton and Interstate 64. Nearly all of the four-lane part of U.S. 35 in West Virginia is signed at 65 mph, and much of the road in Ohio is now 70 mph.

Stanley, the Con-way truck driver who drove Capito on Friday, said though the road isn't part of his regular route anymore, he frequently traveled U.S. 35 for about 10 years.

"You've got to be on your toes," he said of driving a truck on the route. "There's nowhere to get away from anybody on that road."

Truck traffic accounts for a significant portion of all traffic on U.S. 35.

A 2010 study on U.S. 35 conducted by Jacobs Engineering for the state Department of Transportation states that from 2002 to 2007, between 34 and 37 percent of all traffic consists of heavy trucks, at least at a location near the intersection of U.S. 35 and Mason 27.

Figures from 2010 estimate the share of truck traffic on the two-lane portion of U.S. 35 to be 30 percent.

On Friday, a Daily Mail reporter counted 42 semis heading southbound between 10:20 and 10:40 a.m. on the two-lane section of U.S. 35.

On the return trip between 10:45 and 11 a.m., 50 semis and 79 passenger vehicles were counted heading northbound on the two-lane section, thereby making truck traffic around 39 percent of total traffic during those times.

The count and percentage, of course, likely varies depending on time of day.

Total traffic on the two-lane section of U.S. 35 has generally hovered around 10,000 vehicles per day for the last decade, according to state Division of Highways counts. In 2010, the most recent year available, 9,359 vehicles were counted at the Putnam/Mason county line.

Previous counts showed 10,000 in 2001, 10,500 in 2004 and 7,800 in 2007.

Still, the final stretch of upgrading the road has been on hold due to funding issues, as the project has been estimated at $187 million.

In 2011, a low bid to build the highway was allowed to expire after state officials couldn't come up with the necessary funding. That proposal would have incorporated tolls, something to which some residents and politicians in Putnam and Mason counties were against.

Capito said funding may be available in the upcoming federal budget, including from a proposal to divert tax revenue from U.S. businesses' offshore income to fund transportation projects. However, she also acknowledged funding issues for the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is funded by the federal fuel tax.

"With the gas tax declining . . . it makes it difficult to fund that whole trust fund," she said.

If funding isn't immediately available, Capito said alternative sources should also be examined, including public-private partnerships.


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