North-south highway push continues

Highway engineers are looking for a possible route to connect Interstate 68 at LaVale to U.S. Route 220 in Cresaptown by way of Winchester Road.

CUMBERLAND — The idea of a major north-south highway through Allegany County continues to move forward with the U.S. Route 220 corridor viewed as the likely route.

In addition to moving traffic north on Route 220, advocates hope for a four-lane, divided Route 220 that, in a southerly direction, would travel through Allegany County into West Virginia at Keyser and through New Creek, picking up Route 93 at Claysville and connecting to Corridor H near Scherr.

Studies on the proposed routes are underway in Maryland and West Virginia.

In Maryland, highway engineers are looking for a possible route to connect Interstate 68 at LaVale to Route 220 in Cresaptown. With Route 220 (south of Cumberland) in Bowling Green and a portion of Cresaptown lined with homes and businesses, engineers are studying the possibility of connecting the interstate to a less congested portion of Route 220 farther south in Cresaptown.

A route being considered is state Route 53 (Winchester Road). That option would utilize wooded, unimproved land in the vicinity as opposed to reconstructing the current road. 

“This is an economic development project at its very core,” said Colleen Peterson, a member of The Greater Cumberland Committee, which has been advocating for the road since 2007. “You cannot have job creation without having a transportation system that offers a way to those jobs. Look at (the growth in) Frederick, Hagerstown, Morgantown, Winchester. We are almost like a desert because we don’t have that north-south connector.”

Peterson said TGCC is an apolitical regional organization that is active in Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. She coordinates the group’s north-south coalition subgroup.

“Our role has largely been advocating in D.C. with our federally elected officials in all three states,” she said. “You have to champion at the local, state and federal levels. You have to develop the relationships. When you have an election, and officials change, you have to start over with new elected officials.”

The group has made an impact in Pennsylvania by helping to get a 12-mile section of U.S. Route 219 from Somerset to Meyersdale completed last year. Still to be completed in Pennsylvania includes a 14-mile stretch of U.S. Route 219 from Meyersdale south to I-68 at Grantsville.

Like the proposal for a four-lane connector along U.S. Route 220, Corridor H in West Virginia has yet to be completed.

Although a precise route has not been determined, the proposed plan would link Interstate 81 at Strasburg, Virginia, to Interstate 79 in Weston, West Virginia. Areas not complete stretch from Davis to Kerens in the west — utilizing U.S. Route 219 — and Wardensville to Strasburg, Virginia, in the east.

Also active with the TGCC is Dave Moe, a longtime advocate and historian of the greater Appalachian Development Highway System.

Moe said finishing Corridor H, with its difficult mountain terrain, won’t be easy. “You basically have two uncompleted sections,” he said. “But, the portion stretching from Parsons to Davis will be a tough section to build.”

Peterson said TGCC is primarily focused on the Route 220 connector from I-68 in the Cumberland/LaVale area to Keyser, West Virginia, and points south.

“Right now we are looking at where it connects at the Maryland/West Virginia line ... at the (Potomac) river,” she said. “It requires both states to agree on which site can be selected for the terminus.”

Moe said a review of possible routes — known as a Tier II Study — is taking place in Maryland and West Virginia. Both studies are expected to be completed in 2020.

“The Tier II Study is environmental, cultural and historic reviews, so they wouldn’t impact negatively on those,” Moe said. “The study is required by federal law.

“The Tier II in Maryland is mostly complete,” he said. “It’s primarily to try to alleviate that congestion around Cresaptown and review the possible relocation of roads.”

Moe said a new dual-lane divided highway on Route 220 will not be constructed where homes and businesses are alongside the road.

“Route 53 (Winchester Road) has entered into it,” Moe said. “If you don’t want to impact any business and homes you have to get it away from them. So at Winchester Road, it will probably move up to an unimproved area of the woods and come down through and across (to Route 220).”

Allegany County officials have said the U.S. Route 220 corridor traveling south from Cumberland is prime for development.

“I think that is part of focusing on Route 220, because it is an established roadway and it is targeted for economic growth,” said Peterson. “It’s looking at a different location (for the north-south highway) that will run parallel and not mess up that existing 220 that will serve local traffic. This four-lane highway would run parallel but not replace it.”

Moe and Peterson said a major factor of highway construction is the cost.

“We are not talking about a few dollars here,” Peterson said. “We are talking about lots of money ... millions of dollars. Once you make the commitment to do something you have to see it through. It takes generations of people to advocate. 

“This will be pivotal for our success,” said Peterson. “We say we want our young people to stay but they’re not going to without the jobs."

Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.

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Greg Larry is a reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. To reach him, call 304-639-4951, email glarry@times-news.com and follow him on Twitter @greglarryctn.