S.C. leaders press for Jefferson Road overpass
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - South Charleston city leaders on Tuesday urged state highways officials to consider the effects of future development when constructing a new five-lane section of Jefferson Road.
"We have got to have a vision when we look at our infrastructure," Mayor Frank Mullens told engineers with the state Division of Highways.
Division representatives briefed members of the South Charleston Economic Development Committee Tuesday about the proposed construction of a new five-lane connector road that would replace the existing section of Jefferson Road between from MacCorkle Avenue to Corridor G.
State transportation officials held a public forum at the South Charleston Community Center last month to unveil seven conceptual designs.
They include widening the road to five lanes -- including a turning lane running between two lanes of traffic flowing in either direction -- building new bridges and re-routing the road altogether.
The projects vary in cost from $41 million to $66 million. All are projected to significantly ease traffic congestion.
Officials have been conducting studies on ways to ease congestion around the Kanawha Turnpike intersection since 1996.
Division of Highways environmental planning manager Tim Sedosky said traffic engineers have had a difficult time finding a balanced solution.
"It's really a tough little area there to do any upgrades," he said. "Just the general topography of the area makes it difficult to do anything."
He said the offset intersection with the Kanawha Turnpike is "strangely configured" and complicated by railroad crossing. Additionally, engineers have to factor nearby housing, the West Virginia State Police's headquarters, and nearby floodplain issues.
"There's a lot of things happening in a small little area," Sedosky said.
City officials agreed the one feature the new road needs to have is an overpass to allow vehicle traffic to flow over the railroad tracks.
Current conceptual design vary between building an overpass to bypass the railroad tracks, or building the road at the current grade and maintaining a railroad crossing.
"An overpass is vital for the traffic flow and success in the area," Mullens said. "I drive through that area four to five times a day and I just think that is crucial."
Mullens said the city hopes to see further development at the West Virginia Regional Technology Park and property around Corridor G. That development would bring more traffic, he said, and he did not like the idea that those vehicles would have to still stop for trains.
City police chief Brad Rinehart said emergency crews frequently respond to accidents and other incidents in the Jefferson Road area. He said response times are seriously hindered when crews have to wait on a train to finish passing through the railroad crossing.
"That is a really big safety issue," Rinehart said.
City engineer Steve DeBarr pointed out that one of the least expensive of the seven alternatives involved constructing an overpass over the railroad tracks. He said the issue appeared to be a no-brainer.
"It's almost a waste of the government's money to not have that," DeBarr said.
Highway engineer supervisor Richard Warner said officials believed that even with the train tracks still crossing the new road, the traffic would still clear faster than it does today.
However, he noted the project is still in its planning stage, and plans are subject to change.
"When we get into more detail, traffic engineers will do more study," Warner said. "We're a long way from making any sort of decision."
Sedosky said the transportation department is still taking public comments on the project.
He advised city leaders to submit a formal comment with their recommendations to the department. He said engineers will take those comments into consideration when they look at crafting the final design for the road.
"Every one of those comments gets thoroughly read, evaluated and reviewed," Sedosky said. "We can certainly assure you of that."
While the comment period is open to the public, Sedosky said officials have not received very many comments.
He said about 75 to 80 people showed up at last month's public forum, but not many have submitted formal comments.
The Division of Highways has left project information packets and comments sheets at the mayor's office and South Charleston Community Center. Comments can also be submitted online at www.go.wv.gov/dotcomment.
The public comment period closes April 15.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at email@example.com or 304-348-4836.