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Chesapeake Bypass funding part of legislation

CHESAPEAKE — U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-6th) announced last week that $500,000 in federal monies has been appropriated for the Chesapeake Bypass, pending Senate passage.

The funding will help pay for a portion of the property acquisition costs associated with the Phase 2 segment of Ohio 7 between Chesapeake and Proctorville.

Phase 1A has been completed and the Ohio Department of Transportation is working on Phase 1B. The Phase 2 part of the project would construct two westbound lanes and complete the interchange.

“Getting the Chesapeake Bypass completed is one of my top goals,” Wilson said. “I believe the bypass is vital to further economic development in the region.”

Once completed, the bypass will form the northern outer belt around the Tri-State metropolitan area. Upon its completion the outer belt will ease local traffic congestion and provide alternative routing when I-64 is either closed or backed up.

“The fact that we have a line item is important,” said Ralph Kline, co-chair of the Lawrence County Transportation Committee. “We still have the challenge of coming up with the rest of the funds, but these dollars secure the project’s place in the federal and state budgeting process.”

However, Tom Barnitz, project manager for the bypass, said the Chesapeake Bypass is not on the priority list.

“As far as I know it’s in what we call Tier 2,” Barnitz said. “Tier 1 projects are ranked higher. Unless they change the way projects are arranged it will remain in Tier 2. The current cost of the project based on the current evaluation is $133 million. We only have a limited amount of money — there’s no money for construction.”

In March the transportation budget was passed with a provision preventing ODOT from completing Tier 2 projects until Tier 1 projects as of Dec. 20, 2006, are completed.

“We’re currently evaluating the alignment to avoid the slips we had on Phase 1,” Barnitz said.

An amendment to the budget bill that alters ODOT’s priorities could open up funding for the Chesapeake Bypass. In June, Sen. John Carey proposed a plan that he hopes would provide a way for the bypass construction to continue.

The federal funding of $500,000 is included as part of the $104.4 billion Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropria-tions legislation that passed the House by a vote of 268 to 153. It is contingent upon its passage in the Senate and a signature by the president.