Latest News, Monongalia County

Exit 153 overhaul on hold for now, changes to Exit 155 tentatively slated for 2022

MORGANTOWN — In fall 2016, I-79 Exit 153 was completed, providing direct access to University Town Centre and the burgeoning WestRidge development.

In fall 2018, it was announced the exit would need redesigned, turning the roundabout into a divergent diamond.

In fall 2020, COVID-19 put that redesign on hold indefinitely.

Now, in fall 2021, Ryan Lynch, of WestRidge, said the redesign is going to happen — eventually.

Lynch explained that WestRidge, a 1,000-plus acre mixed-use development, currently has about 600,000 square-feet of development open or under construction.

“There is a tipping point where the level of service of the interchange falls below acceptable, and the experts tell us that will occur sometime between 1.5 million and 2 million square-feet of development build out,” Lynch explained, adding “This tipping point is not likely to occur in the next five years, but if it does, we’ll have plenty of advance notice.”

The $22 million project to build the interchange was paid for using increment from the University Town Centre TIF district and is believed to be the state’s first public/private interchange project.

Monongalia County Commission President Sean Sikora said it’s the kind of thing you only see here.

“I asked the department of highways, Secretary Byrd White was there with his top lieutenants, and I said ‘Are there any other counties in the state where you’ve got these type of projects, where you have private developers doing the preliminary studies and the design?’ No. No other county,” Sikora said. “Solutions are not always about looking at Charleston and saying, ‘When are we going to get our share,’ but instead taking solutions to them and saying, ‘We’re willing to work with you. We’re going to make it easier for you to do that.’ ”

Another example of that unique partnership lies just around the bend, at I-79’s Exit 155.

In this instance, WestRidge is working with the state to redesign a failing interchange by using sales tax increment generated in the district to fund the design and engineering for the project.

Construction of the divergent diamond-style interchange was last estimated at $66 million to be funded through the state’s Roads-to-Prosperity funds.

Lynch said the design team meets bi-weekly with the DOH. The Monongalia County Commission and the Morgantown Utility Board are also kept in the loop.

The goal, he said, is to make sure all infrastructure, roads and utilities, are “designed and coordinated appropriately to allow for continued regional growth — at WestRidge, Mylan Park and the rest of the western end of the county.”

A public meeting on the Exit 155 overhaul is tentatively being planned for early 2022, with construction to follow in the second half of the year.

According to information provided by Lynch, current projections show WestRidge will fully built out with as much as 2.5 million square-feet of development sometime between 2030 and 2035.

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