KEYSER, W.Va. - Mineral County Commissioners Cindy Pyles, Janice LaRue and Wayne Spiggle have chosen to support route Option B for the proposed U.S. Route 220 upgrade to connect Interstate 68 with Corridor H.

Option B follows U.S. 220 South from Interstate 68 in Cumberland to a location between Keyser and Piedmont, bypassing both towns, then connecting with state Route 972 and continuing westward on U.S. Route 50 along New Creek Valley to state Route 93 and on to Scherr, where it would connect with Corridor H.

"We all agreed this would be the most beneficial route to Mineral County," Pyles said, noting that it would provide economic benefit as well as farmland preservation. "This route would also be the most beneficial to Maryland, which also has a big stake in this project."

Pyles said that the commissioners would like to see access to the Barton and Keyser commercial parks spun off the project as well to assist with the development of those economic development efforts.

"That would be most beneficial to the economy of both areas," she said.

Spiggle said that several factors were considered in the decision, including fewer acquisition issues, current business and industrial centers on the route, and that it is probably the most economical route of the five being considered to construct.

"Presumably the route is favored by Maryland and Maryland's support is necessary if this project is to move forward," he said.

Spiggle that if these assumptions prove to be incorrect, he believes the commission might "revisit the issue with an open mind."

Bill Wood of the Planning Office of the West Virginia Division of Highways said Monday that he is glad local government entities and individuals are taking positions on the potential route. He said that determining the accuracy of the commissioners' assumptions is what the current environmental study phase is about.

"We need all the information we can get," Wood said. "This is a great start at this level because we need as much information as possible to head off any problems or issues that might stall the project. We don't want to overlook anything."

Norse Angus of the Environmental Division of the Division of Highways said that they probably received about 70 comments at public meetings held this spring from county organizations, county commissions, development authorities and individuals.

"We haven't tallied any of it yet, so there is no clear picture that has emerged, but all of the comments are going to be considered," he said.

Angus said that since the public meetings, the consultant on the project, Skelly and Loy of Pennsylvania, has been in the field gathering additional information. He said the company is looking at natural resources that might be impacted by such a highway project, as well as cultural, historical and traffic issues. "We're looking for balanced input," he said.

Angus said that traffic counts are under way on various highways and they are inventorying the potential growth factors in the region. "We're looking at 20 to 25 years out in the planning," he said.

He said that the Division of Highways will return to the public with an outline of the determining factors and how they impact the plans for the proposed connecting highway.

Comments are being accepted by Greg Bailey P.E., Director Engineering Division, West Virginia Division of Highways, Building 5, 1900 Kanawha Blvd., East, Charleston, WV 25305.

Angus said that the next public meetings to review the analysis are likely to be scheduled in October. The current phase of study is expected to last another 15 to 18 months.

There is no funding for the construction of the proposed highway, but the Maryland congressional delegation has urged the project be put under the umbrella of the Appalachian Highway System as has West Virginia Congressman Alan Mollahan.

Mona Ridder can be reached at mridder@times-news.com.

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