MORGANTOWN — While a redesigned I-79 Exit 155 is still likely years away, it looks as if there are changes coming to the troublesome interchange.
Morgantown Monongalia Metropolitan Planning Organization Executive Director Bill Austin said Thursday motorists will likely see traffic signals going up along Chaplin Hill Road early next year.
Austin explained this was one of the issues he raised during a recent meeting in Charleston to discuss the state’s transportation safety plan.
“They are ready to move forward with the installation of a signal at Exit 155 where we’ve been requesting it,” Austin told members of the MPO Policy Board.
Austin stopped short of saying the lights were a certainty but said he’s confident the state is committed to the project.
“I know they are working on it. I can’t say 100% certain but the traffic engineering folks were very positive,” he said. “There’s a good chance it will be installed, but it will probably be four months before it can be installed.”
In June, Megan O’Reilly, director of external relations with WestRidge, said the first phase of the larger Exit 155 project — raising and expanding the bridges over Chaplin Hill Road — is tentatively expected to begin next summer.
In other transportation news, the policy board approved the addition of three projects tied to the new Morgantown Industrial Park access road and bridge to its Transportation Improvement Program, or TIP.
Projects must be included in the TIP to be eligible for federal dollars.
The first, for engineering, will utilize $3.72 million in federal funds ($4.65 million total) in the current fiscal year.
The second, for right of way acquisition, will utilize $6.4 million in federal funds ($8 million total) in the current fiscal year.
The third, for fiscal year 2024, will use $57.6 million in federal dollars ($72 million total) to construct the road and bridge.
While the body ultimately approved all three, it was suggested, and even recommended by the MPO’s Citizens Advisory Committee, it not put the construction phase on the fiscally constrained TIP until there is something in writing from the state confirming the location of the project.
Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom said he didn’t believe such precaution was necessary.
“The location has been chosen. When you met with the public before, there were three alternatives, but the governor made it very clear which alternative is going forward, which is the third one,” Bloom said.
In August, the policy board selected the state’s Alternative 3 as the bridge location. That option improves the industrial park’s existing Rail Street, crosses the river on a multi-span bridge, and joins U.S. 119 (Don Knotts Boulevard) near Scott Avenue.
Lastly, the policy board approved $400,000 in discretionary Surface Transportation Block Grant dollars to help construct a sidewalk along Fairmont Road from Savannah Street to Dents Run Boulevard. The city of Westover will provide a $100,000 match.
The board also conditionally approved $400,000 in STBG funds for engineering on a pedestrian bridge over Don Knotts Boulevard connecting White Park to the riverfront as well as $128,000 to put rapid flashing beacon crosswalks at three road crossings along the Deckers Creek Rail-Trail.
The funding for the pedestrian bridge engineering as well as the trail crossings is contingent upon feedback from the West Virginia Division of Highways.