Government, Latest News, Monongalia County

Exit 155 status: Well, it is a bit complicated, parties look to reset

MORGANTOWN — Call them frienemies.

Or maybe just say “It’s complicated.”

Either way, the on-again-off-again relationship between the Monongalia County Commission and Charleston — specifically, the West Virginia Department of Transportation — appears to be back on, for the time being.

It’s a relationship reset.

Sound familiar?

It should.

That’s what we called it in November of 2019, when Commissioners Tom Bloom, Sean Sikora and former Commissioner Ed Hawkins traveled to Charleston for a sitdown with top DOT officials that began with several minutes of … honest conversation.

Fast forward to last Thursday, when Bloom and Sikora returned.

“Let’s just say, we mean frank,” Bloom said of  the initial comments offered by West Virginia Department of Transportation Secretary Byrd White.

The takeaway from the whole thing — Monongalia County has a problem providing clear direction.

Sound familiar?

It should.

That’s what we said in 2014, when local disharmony appeared to be blocking a Mileground project that remains unfinished to this day.

Back to last Thursday.

“It’s been there since West Run. We thought we had it cleared up. But now we realize there are still people out there undermining our one voice. There are special interest groups and certain governmental bodies that are not following the procedures,” Bloom said. “It’s very simple. We’re not in Charleston. In Kanawha County, they can walk in and talk to them.”

Both Bloom and Sikora said they came away from the meeting with a desire to improve communication with Charleston.

They also came away with assurances that a redesign of I-79’s Exit 155 is a priority for the state.

Questions about who’s to blame for delays to that project were largely behind this latest beef between Monongalia County and Charleston.

But as stated, it is kind of complicated as Monongalia County is somewhat unique in that it has private developers playing a significant role in infrastructure decisions.

In this case, it’s WestRidge. The same developer that spurred the creation of Exit 153 has done much of the preliminary work for an overhaul of Exit 155.

But when you’re talking about public infrastructure, you’ve got to keep the state in the loop.

“There were some assumptions that may have been understood under [Tom] Smith’s regime. But now we know Jason [Foster] is the one stop when we need information on a project. To be frank, you tell us if our developer is screwing up and we’ll hold him accountable,” Sikora said. “How many other counties do you have where developers are doing this kind of work? Anywhere else, this is all being done by the state. Honestly, we’re kind of a victim of our own success.”

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