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Van Voorhis project plans raise questions about bank location, eminent domain

MORGANTOWN — The BB&T bank located at the corner of  W.Va. 705 (Chestnut Ridge Road) and Van Voorhis Road is partially built on a 2,214 square-foot strip of property along Van Voorhis owned by the West Virginia Department of Transportation.

So why is the DOT gearing up to claim private property on the other side of Van Voorhis through eminent domain to accommodate a road widening project?

Further, did the state even consider reclaiming its own property for the project? Did the state reach out to Truist Financial, the corporation that owns BB&T? Was a cost benefit analysis conducted?   

Those were just a few of the questions raised during a recent session of the Morgantown Monongalia Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board, which intends to ask the DOH to back up and conduct a cost benefit analysis for the Van Voorhis project using the property the state already owns.    

Matt Gutta is a local attorney and the nephew of one of the property owners between Killarney Drive and 705 whose property will be impacted. He was among those present during a recent closed-door meeting between property owners, their representatives and DOH officials.

He said it’s clear the DOH reserved right of way for this very eventuality but has chosen to go after property owned by local business owners rather than even approach “a multi-billion dollar corporation” that built on land owned by the state. 

“Again, there has to be no other viable alternative for condemnation proceeding to affect a certain piece of property. Obviously there was a viable alternative that was never researched. We asked the state, ‘Did you even call BB&T to discuss the matter with them?’ The answer was no. This is absolutely appalling,” he said.

The project will, among other things, create an additional southbound through lane on Van Voorhis.

According to engineer Jim French, the state’s current plan to put the additional lane on the west side of Van Voorhis will only further misalign the already skewed intersection. 

“Only one lane lines up currently … so ideally you would say, engineering-wise, this is very simple. If we want to create a second southbound through lane, it should go on the side with the bank. And that is undisputable,” he said, adding “If you ask 100 engineers, 100 engineers will tell you as much. But they’re not building the lane over here, they’re building the lane over here. And they’re building it over here because it’s easier.”

Members of the policy board also asked why the DOH would bring this project forward without making it known what, if anything, it intends to do with the Van Voorhis/705/Burroughs intersection.

What, they asked, is the sense in improving access to a failing intersection, particularly in a fashion that appears to exacerbate at least one of the contributing factors.

The problem with killing the widening project is that it will take the project’s substantial pedestrian improvements along with it.

According to the DOH, the project would include a larger refuge island in the intersection which will shorten the pedestrian crossing. In addition, a sidewalk would  be built along the west side of Van Voorhis from Killarney Drive to Windwood Village. The sidewalk will then continue on the east side of Van Voorhis to a point south of West Run Road.

Even so, County Commissioner Jeff Arnett said he has serious concerns about the DOH’s current design. 

“I’m no engineer, but this … I know we don’t get into design but it just seems like there’s a right side on this and a wrong side,”  Arnett said. “The risk of losing the project and losing the sidewalk all the way up the hill, I can’t speak to that, but it’s an asinine plan in my opinion, for whatever that’s worth.”

The Dominion Post contacted Truist. A representative said they are looking into the matter, including whether there was ever any communication from the state regarding the property in question.

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