MORGANTOWN — With a $66 million commitment from the West Virginia Department of Highways for I-79 Exit 155 improvements already in hand, a contingent of stakeholders is looking for $95 million in federal funding to extend those upgrades west to Mylan Park.
A presentation scheduled for Wednesday’s Monongalia County Commission meeting will detail a recently submitted application to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s $7.25 billion INFRA Grant program.
If successful, those dollars would create a four-lane connection between I-79 Exit 155 and the Monongalia County Schools Bus Garage entrance to Mylan Park, as well as a multi-modal (bike/pedestrian) path connecting Mylan Park to the existing rail-trail system.
While the commission submitted the grant request, it’s not taking on the effort alone. The project would come with significant buy-in from developer WestRidge, which would put up approximately $5 million for design and engineering and, depending on the final route design, provide land needed to accommodate the widened road.
It also comes with the backing of federal and state elected officials as well as the Morgantown Area Partnership, Mylan Park, The Gateway development and the county’s municipalities.
During a Tuesday session with The Dominion Post Editorial Board, representatives of the Monongalia County Commission, WestRidge and MAP said the project checks many of the desired boxes for INFRA Grant funding, particularly in terms of improving safety and access to community resources.
Beyond that, the timing is right. The Exit 155 project is coming. The new interchange will be a divergent diamond design with a westbound flyover. The county and its partners have long viewed improved access to Mylan Park as the next logical step, given the growth of the area.
Ryan Lynch, of WestRidge, told The Dominion Post in January 2020, “We’ll pick up just west of where the 155 project ends and take those improvements to the entrance of Mylan Park … Whether it’s three, four lanes is still kinda to be determined.”
On Tuesday, MAP President and CEO Russ Rogerson said this project is the only one seeking INFRA Grant dollars in north-central West Virginia.
He also said that if the interchange project moves forward without this expansion, the feasibility of adding that component later is going to be “almost nonexistent.”
“The biggest part of getting most grants is, are you ready? You always hear the term ‘shovel-ready,’ and communities rarely have the ability to say ‘I’m ready.’ Well, we’re more shovel-ready than probably a vast majority of the other grant applications they’re receiving,” Rogerson said.
“So if we can up our game and leverage those local dollars into multiple millions of federal dollars, why not? Why wouldn’t we do this? Why wouldn’t we try?”
Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom said he thinks this project is a perfect fit for the INFRA Grant guidelines.
“I feel like this federal grant was written for us,” he said. “Many of the people here will understand, but in D.C., where we’re fighting for the funds over other states, we want the public to realize this isn’t ‘Build it and they might come.’ This is ‘We’re already here’ … We have the opportunity to do it all at one time. The funding is there and everyone believes this is the time to do it.”
Announcement of INFRA Grant recipients is expected by the end of the year.
Additional information on the project is available at I79chaplinhillgatewayproject.com.