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Gov. Justice throws state support behind I-79 Harmony Grove interchange proposal

MORGANTOWN – Gov. Jim Justice joined the chorus of voices supporting the proposed I-79 Harmony Grove interchange. He announced his – and the state government’s – support on Friday.

“Morgantown and all of north-central West Virginia is a region of our state that continues to grow like crazy,” he said. “This project to reshape I-79 is a large but necessary undertaking to provide convenient access to the industrial park and other areas where business is flourishing more than ever before. These upgrades would also add an element of safety for motorists who use this high-traffic corridor, especially local residents who travel on the interstate every day.”

The interchange would serve to connect the Morgantown Industrial Park to I-79 below the Westover exit.

In October 2020, the West Virginia Department of Transportation entered into an agreement with MIP owner Enrout Properties to allow the company to explore the feasibility of building a new interchange, Justice said. Enrout agreed to prepare a justification report, environmental document and design study – at no cost to the DOT – exploring the proposed new interstate access.

Enrout’s proposal must be approved by the DOT and the Federal Highway Administration.

On April 27, Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin and Rep. David McKinley wrote to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg explaining the importance of the interchange and urging him to expedite FHWA review of the Interchange Justification Report. Capito repeated that urging last week when Buttigieg appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Justice on Friday talked about the economic benefits of building out infrastructure and mentioned Mountaintop Beverage, a food and beverage packaging company, that has committed to the site, building an approximately 300,000-square-foot packaging facility in the park.

That facility, The Dominion Post previously reported, is expected to be operational in November and bring with it more than $200 million in clean manufacturing investments and several hundred jobs, along with up to 100 trucks to the park on a daily basis.

Justice said, “Amazing companies from all over the world are moving into or expanding operations in West Virginia right now, because they see that our economy is on a roll, our state is as business-friendly as they come, and setting up shop in West Virginia means a chance to live in paradise. Once these businesses move here, it drives more and more activity in our economy, and the cycle of prosperity continues building on itself.”

As part of the 2020 agreement, the Monongalia County Commission would reimburse the WVDOT over a number of years, using funds that might be generated by the county’s Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District in that area. The current working price estimate for the interchange is $41.6 million, though that number is believed to be on the high side. The actual cost in state and/or federal dollars would be $10 million (about 25%), with the new Morgantown Industrial Park TIF district paying down the rest (75%) over about 25 years.

Mon County Commissioner Tom Bloom said on Friday, “The County Commission is ecstatic. We want to thank the governor for being the final piece in moving this project forward,” apart from federal approval.

The certainty of an interchange will make it easier to draw businesses to the area, he said, and provide stability for the park’s existing businesses that want to expand. “We are talking hundreds and hundreds of good-paying jobs.” It will have not just a local but a regional impact.

The bottling plant, for instance, will need hundreds of wooden pallets, which will support the timber industry, he said. He thanked Justice and the D.C. delegation for their support.

“This is what happens when everyone is working together,” Bloom said.

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