Leaders ready plan for bypass

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 18, 2004

Lawrence County business leaders are not ready to give up on a major highway project - especially after having already waited for more than 40 years.

Members of the Greater Lawrence County Area Chamber of Commerce's Transportation Committee worked on Friday to formulate a strategy to help secure funds for the final two phases of the project commonly known as the Chesapeake Bypass.

The project's second and third phases were left off the state's preliminary funding list for 2005-2010.

Email newsletter signup

Those phases would build first a two-lane road connecting State Route 7, where it current dead ends as the roadway turns south to the West Huntington Bridge, and state routes 607 and 775 near Proctorville. The project would bypass the rough route State Route 7 currently makes between Chesapeake and Proctorville.

"You've got an area through there where, obviously there are a lot of spots through there that you can expect flip outs. It's a road that's in very poor condition. And that's what we're left with if we don't build the bypass," said Bob Dalton, chairman of the chamber's transportation committee.

Discussed since the 1950s, the project for decades had been subject of much local frustration. Then, a few years ago, when the project's first phases were finally funded, locals saw the light at the end of the congested tunnel.

Residents were instructed where the corridors would be and which property would likely need to be gobbled up to make way for the new roads. Now the lack of funding and uncertain timetable on the final phases has created a state of limbo, causing ill feelings and frustrated property owners.

"We've got people that have actually gone, that live in this right-of-way, that have purchased homes elsewhere," Dalton said. "They have been left in a never, never land."

Chamber members, along with the county commissioners and representatives with the KYOVA Interstate Planning Commission plan to contact Ohio Department of Transportation Director Gordon Proctor.

Their goals are simple: Determine why ODOT's Transportation Review Advisory Council did not fund the final phases and try to persuade TRAC members to reconsider.

"We're writing a letter to the director and also asking for the criteria that is used to judge our project," Dalton said. "After we get the response from that, we'll know more on how we go from there."

Dalton and others contend further delays will simply increase the costs and may, in fact, lead to having to rework the entire plan - again.

"Otherwise, we'll be back to 1953, watching the plans deteriorate and become unusable," Dalton said.

Part of their plan includes attempting to show

ODOT officials how important the project is to continued economic development.

Calling the project "the Chesapeake Bypass" as originally conceived and approved in 1953 is not longer accurate, officials say.

Now local leaders consider the project a Tri-State Metro "Outerbelt" since it would greatly connect Huntington, W.Va., metro area with southeast Ohio.

Phase 1A was completed in May 2003, construction of State Route 607, connecting the 31st Street Bridge in Huntington to State Route 775, bypassing downtown Proctorville.

Phase 1B, an approximately $22.1 million project, includes the construction of a 4.5-mile, two-lane route from State Route 607 and Irene Road East to the existing State Route 7, just north of Fairland East Elementary.

The project will also include the construction of intersections with State Route 775 and Kinley Avenue. It is now under construction and scheduled to be completed in 2005.

It would also include the construction of three interchanges: one at State Route 527 and Shafer Town Road in the west; one at state routes 607 and 775 in the central portion; and one at State Route 243, via Kinley Avenue, in the east.

Dalton said business leaders feel good about the area's relationship with ODOT.

"We got where we are with an alliance with ODOT," he said. "They've been up front and fair with us. We're not approaching this in an adversarial position. We just didn't get it done so we're still negotiating."

Leaders expect to have the letter requesting information and a meeting with Proctor to be sent early next week.

The TRAC's preliminary funding plan is currently in a 90-day public comment period that ends in March. Final approval is expected in May.